The Large Family, by Pope Pius XIIWritten by Michael J. Matt | Editor
We are publishing (below) Pope Pius XII’s 1958 address “The Large Family” because it reemphasizes the consistent teaching of the Holy Father against “family planning”—whether natural or otherwise.
Certainly natural family planning techniques can (and often are!) used to promote large families, and there can be no objection to this, of course. But when those same techniques are used to prevent conception for any and all reasons and for prolonged periods of time—constituting a veritable Catholic form of contraception—without the slightest regard for Pius’s “grave reasons” (i.e, life-threatening illnesses), they can hardly be regarded as being in accord with his teaching, much less the mind of Holy Mother Church. “I am not pleased with the statement in the text that married couples may determine the number of children they are to have,” wrote the late, great Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, head of the Holy Office before, during and after Vatican II, and also the esteemed prelate who personally crowned Cardinal Montini pope (Paul VI). “Never has this been heard of in the Church,” he concluded. (The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, by Father Ralph Wiltgen, Tan Books and Publishers, 1967.)
Never has this been heard of in the Church! Natural justice demands that the abuse of natural birth control so rampant among otherwise faithful Catholics today not be laid at the feet of the venerable pontiff, who in fact said: “you can give irrefutable proofs of the stupidity of birth-control theories and of the harm that comes from putting them into practice; but as long as there is no sincere determination to let the Creator carry on His work as He chooses, then human selfishness will always find new sophistries and excuses to still the voice of conscience and to carry on abuses.”
I say “faithful Catholics” since only the most faithful these days would bother to follow the Church’s teaching against artificial contraception in the first place. But this only exacerbates the problem, since in so many instances, then, good Catholics are being led astray by pastors who assure them with plenty of “new sophistries” that they need only have the number of children they “can afford” or they want; or that they’re perfectly free to put off having any at all and for years, if need be.
What the world needs desperately today is exactly what Pius XII calls for in the following address—large Catholic families and parents who trust completely in God as the Author of all life. His Holiness would have fallen to the floor in horror had he been informed that a day was coming when young and perfectly healthy Catholic couples would be required to learn how to prevent conception—with 99% accuracy, no less!—as part of their diocesan-mandated marriage preparation classes, and that this inane policy would be justified in his name!
The following address was delivered in January of 1958; Pius died in October of that same year. In other words, in one of his final messages to the world he went to considerable lengths to stress the singular importance of large families and to impart his papal blessing on men and women who take no interest in what he called “planned parenthood”, but rather open themselves completely to the will of God where procreation is concerned. And this was for good reason, since modern society would soon thereafter declare total war not only on large families, but also on the very ends of marriage established by God Himself—the procreation and education of children. Once that war was won, contraception, legal abortion and gay “marriage” became societal inevitabilities. MJM
The Large Family, by Pope Pius XII (1958)
Beloved sons and daughters, Officers and Representatives of the Associations for Large Families of Rome and of Italy, this visit of yours has to be listed among those that bring deepest pleasure to Our heart.
You are well aware of the lively interest We have in family life, of how We never miss an opportunity to point out its many-sided dignity, to reassert its rights and defend them, to inculcate the duties it involves—in a word, We make it a key-point of Our pastoral teaching.
It is this same anxious interest in families that makes Us agree so readily to spend at least a few moments with family groups that come to Our home (whenever the duties of Our office do not make this impossible), and this is why, on occasion, We consent to be photographed in the midst of them, so as to leave some kind of lasting record of Our joy and theirs.
Father of the human family
The Pope in the midst of a family! Isn’t that right where he belongs? Isn’t he (in the loftiest spiritual sense of the word) the Father of the whole human family that has been reborn in Christ and in the Church? Is it not through him, the Vicar of Christ on earth, that the wonderful plan of creative Wisdom is put into effect — a plan that has conferred on all human fatherhood the destiny of preparing a chosen family for heaven, where the love of the One and Triune God will enfold them in a single eternal embrace and give them Himself as the inheritance that will make them perfectly happy?
A triple testimony
But you do not represent just any families at all; you are and represent large families, those most blessed by God and specially loved and prized by the Church as its most precious treasures. For these families offer particularly clear testimony to three things that serve to assure the world of the truth of the Church’s doctrine and the soundness of its practice, and that redound, through good example, to the great benefit of all other families and of civil society itself.
Wherever you find large families in great numbers, they point to: the physical and moral health of a Christian people; a living faith in God and trust in His Providence; the fruitful and joyful holiness of Catholic marriage.
We would like to say a few words about each of these points.
Surely, one of the most harmful aberrations that has appeared in modern society with its pagan tendencies is the opinion of those who are eager to classify fruitfulness in marriage as a “social malady,” and who maintain that any nation that finds itself thus afflicted must exert every effort and use every means to cure the disease. This is the basis for the propaganda that goes under the name of “planned parenthood”; at times it is promoted by persons and organizations who command respect because of their positions in other fields, but who, unfortunately, have taken a stand in this matter which must be condemned.
Sad as it is to realize how widespread doctrines and practices of this kind have become, even among the traditionally healthy classes, it is comforting to see indications and proofs of a healthy reaction in your country, both in the legal and in the medical fields. As you know, article 31 of the current Constitution of the Italian Republic, to cite just one source, pays “special attention to large families,” and the prevailing teaching among Italian doctors is a long a line of opposition ever more strongly against birth-control practices.
This does not mean that the danger has passed and that we have destroyed the prejudices which tend to make marriage and its wise norms submit to the aims of reprehensible pride and parentness on the part of society or of individuals. We particularly deplore that section of the press that every so often takes up the question once again with the obvious intention of confusing good people and drawing them into error with misleading evidence, questionable polls, and even falsified statements from some cleric or other.
Obedience to nature’s laws
On the part of Catholics, We must urge the wide dissemination of the principle, firmly founded on truth, that the only way to protect the physical and moral health of the family and of society is through whole-hearted obedience to the laws of nature, or rather of the Creator, and most of all by fostering a sacred, heart-felt respect for them.
In this matter, everything depends on the intention. You can multiply laws and make the penalties heavier; you can give irrefutable proofs of the stupidity of birth-control theories and of the harm that comes from putting them into practice; but as long as there is no sincere determination to let the Creator carry on His work as He chooses, then human selfishness will always find new sophistries and excuses to still the voice of conscience (to the extent it can), and to carry on abuses.
Now the value of the testimony offered by the parents of large families lies not only in their unequivocal and forceful rejection of any deliberate compromise between the law of God and human selfishness, but also in their readiness to accept joyfully and gratefully these priceless gifts of God—their children — in whatever number it may please Him to send them.
This kind of attitude frees married couples from oppressive anxieties and remorse, and, in the opinion of outstanding doctors, creates the ideal psychological conditions for the healthy development of children born of the marriage. For, right at the beginning of these new lives, it eliminates all those worries and disturbances that can so easily leave physical or psychological scars on the mother or child.
Apart from exceptional cases and We have had occasion to speak of these before — nature’s law is basically one of harmony, and it leads to discord and contradictions only in cases where its normal operation is upset by particular circumstances which are for the most part abnormal, or by deliberate opposition from a human will. There is no eugenics that can improve upon nature: it is good as a science only so long as it aims at gaining a profound knowledge of nature’s laws and respects these laws — although in some cases it may be wise to dissuade people who suffer from serious defects from getting married (cfr. Enc. Casti connubii, Dec. 31, 1930: A.A.S. 22 (1930) p. 565).
Physical and moral health
Again, good common sense has always and everywhere looked upon large families as a sign, a proof, and a source of physical health, and history makes no mistake when it points to violation and abuse of the laws governing marriage and procreation as the primary cause of the decay of peoples.
Far from being a “social malady,” large families are a guarantee of the moral and physical health of a people. Virtues flourish spontaneously in homes where a baby’s cries always echo from the crib, and vice is put to flight, as if it has been chased away by the childhood that is renewed there like the fresh and invigorating breath of spring.
So let the weak and selfish take their example from you; let the nation continue to be loving and grateful toward you for all the sacrifices you have taken upon yourselves to raise and educate its citizens; just as the Church is pleased with you for enabling her to offer, along with you, ever healthier and larger groups of souls to the sanctifying activity of the divine Spirit.
In the modern civil world a large family is usually, with good reason, looked upon as evidence of the fact that the Christian faith is being lived up to, for the selfishness that We just pointed out as the principal obstacle to an increase in the size of a family group cannot be successfully overcome without recourse to ethical and religious principles.
In recent times we have seen how so-called “demographic politics” have failed to achieve any noteworthy results; it is easy to see why, for the individual interest will almost always win out over the collective pride and selfishness which this idea so often expresses, and the aims and methods of this policy debase the dignity of the family and the person by placing them on the same level as lower species.
The light of Christianity
Only the divine and eternal light of Christianity gives full life and meaning to the family and this is so true that right from the beginning and through the whole course of its history, large families have often been considered as synonymous with Christian families.
Respect for divine laws has made them abound with life; faith in God gives parents the strength and vigor they need to face the sacrifice and self-denial demanded for the raising of their children; Christian principles guide them and help them in the hard work of education; the Christian spirit of love watches over their peace and good order, and seems to draw forth from nature and bestow the deepest family joys that belong to parents, to children, to brothers and sisters.
Even externally, a large, well-ordered family is a kind of visible shrine: the sacrament of Baptism is not an exceptional event for them but something constantly renewing the joy and grace of the Lord. The series of happy pilgrimages to the Baptismal font is not yet finished when a new one to Confirmation and first Communion begins, aglow with the same innocence. The youngest of the children will scarcely have put away his little white suit among the dearest memories of life, when the first wedding veil appears to bring parents, children, and new relatives together at the foot of the altar. More marriages, more Baptisms, more first Communions follow each other like ever-new springtimes that, in a sense, make the visits of God and of His grace to the home unending.
Trust in God
But God also visits large families with His Providence, and parents, especially those who are poor, give clear testimony to this by resting all their trust in Him when human efforts are not enough. A trust that has a solid foundation and is not in vain! Providence — to put it in human words and ideas — is not a sum total of exceptional acts of divine pity; it is the ordinary result of harmonious activity on the part of the infinite wisdom, goodness and omnipotence of the Creator. God will never refuse a means of living to those He calls into being.
The Divine Master has explicitly taught that “life is worth more than food, and the body more than clothing” (cf. Matt. 6, 25). If single incidents, whether small or great, seem to contradict this, it is a sign that man has placed some obstacle in the way of divine order, or else, in exceptional cases, that God has higher plans for good; but Providence is something real, something necessary since God is the Creator.
[In the interest of conserving column space we’re cutting Pius’s short section on overpopulation, in which he points out that even if it weren’t a conspiracy theory, so-called overpopulation still would not justify a decrease in family size, that it is necessarily a consequence of greed, and that advancements in science should easily wipe out any concern that larger population numbers might cause hunger and depletion of the earth’s resources. MJM]
And now a few words on your third testimony — words that may give new strength to those who are fearful and bring you a little comfort.
Large families are the most splendid flower-beds in the garden of the Church; happiness flowers in them and sanctity ripens in favorable soil. Every family group, even the smallest, was meant by God to be an oasis of spiritual peace. But there is a tremendous difference: where the number of children is not much more than one, that serene intimacy that gives value to life has a touch of melancholy or of pallor about it; it does not last as long, it may be more uncertain, it is often clouded by secret fears and remorse.
Happiness in a large family
It is very different from the serenity of spirit to be found in parents who are surrounded by a rich abundance of young lives. The joy that comes from the plentiful blessings of God breaks out in a thousand different ways and there is no fear that it will end. The brows of these fathers and mothers may be burdened with cares, but there is never a trace of that inner shadow that betrays anxiety of conscience or fear of an irreparable return to loneliness. Their youth never seems to fade away, as long as the sweet fragrance of a crib remains in the home, as long as the walls of the house echo to the silvery voices of children and grandchildren.
Their heavy labors multiplied many times over, their redoubled sacrifices and their renunciation of costly amusements are generously rewarded even here below by the inexhaustible treasury of affection and tender hopes that dwell in their hearts without ever tiring them or bothering them.
And the hopes soon become a reality when the eldest daughter begins to help her mother to take care of the baby and on the day the oldest son comes home with his face beaming with the first salary he has earned himself. That day will be a particularly happy one for parents, for it will make the spectre of an old age spent in misery disappear, and they will feel assured of a reward for their sacrifices.
When there are many children, the youngsters are spared the boredom of loneliness and the discomfort of having to live in the midst of adults all the time. It is true that they may sometimes become so lively as to get on your nerves, and their disagreements may seem like small riots; but even their arguments play an effective role in the formation of character, as long as they are brief and superficial. Children in large families learn almost automatically to be careful of what they do and to assume responsibility for it, to have a respect for each other and help each other, to be open-hearted and generous. For them, the family is a little proving ground, before they move into the world outside, which will be harder on them and more demanding.
All of these precious benefits will be more solid and permanent, more intense and more fruitful if the large family takes the supernatural spirit of the Gospel, which spiritualizes everything and makes it eternal, as its own particular guiding rule and basis. Experience shows that in these cases, God often goes beyond the ordinary gifts of Providence, such as joy and peace, to bestow on it a special call — a vocation to the priesthood, to the religious life, to the highest sanctity.
With good reason, it has often been pointed out that large families have been in the forefront as the cradles of saints. We might cite, among others, the family of St. Louis, the King of France, made up of ten children, that of St. Catherine of Siena who came from a family of twenty-five, St. Robert Bellarmine from a family of twelve, and St. Pius X from a family of ten.
Every vocation is a secret of Providence; but these cases prove that a large number of children does not prevent parents from giving them an outstanding and perfect upbringing; and they show that the number does not work out to the disadvantage of their quality, with regard to either physical or spiritual values.
Vigilance and action
One last word to you, Directors and Representatives of the Associations for Large Families of Rome and of Italy. Be careful to imprint the seal of an ever more vigilant and fruitful dynamism on the action that you intend to carry out in behalf of the dignity of large families and for their economic protection.
With regard to the first of these aims, keep in line with the directives of the Church; with regard to the second, you have to shake out of its lethargy that part of society that is not yet aware of its social responsibilities. Providence is a divine truth and reality, but it chooses to make use of human cooperators. Ordinarily it moves into action and comes to our aid when it has been summoned and practically led by the hand by man; it loves to lie hidden behind human activity. While it is only right to acknowledge that Italian legislation can legitimately boast of being most advanced in this area of affording protection to families and especially to large families, We should not close our eyes to the fact that there are still a considerable number of them who are tossed back and forth between discomfort and real privation, through no fault of their own. Your action must aim at bringing these people the protection of the laws, and in more urgent cases the help of charity. Every positive achievement in this field is like a solid stone set into the structure of the nation and of the church; it is the very best thing you can do as Catholics and as citizens.
Calling down the divine protection upon your families and those of all Italy, placing them once again under the heavenly protection of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, We impart to you with all Our heart Our paternal Apostolic Blessing.
Michael J. Matt has been an editor of The Remnant since 1990. Since 1994, he has been the newspaper's editor. A graduate of Christendom College, Michael Matt has written hundreds of articles on the state of the Church and the modern world. He is the host of The Remnant Underground and Remnant TV's The Remnant Forum. He's been U.S. Coordinator for Notre Dame de Chrétienté in Paris--the organization responsible for the Pentecost Pilgrimage to Chartres, France--since 2000. Mr. Matt has led the U.S. contingent on the Pilgrimage to Chartres for the last 24 years. He is a lecturer for the Roman Forum's Summer Symposium in Gardone Riviera, Italy. He is the author of Christian Fables, Legends of Christmas and Gods of Wasteland (Fifty Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll) and regularly delivers addresses and conferences to Catholic groups about the Mass, home-schooling, and the culture question. Together with his wife, Carol Lynn and their seven children, Mr. Matt currently resides in St. Paul, Minnesota.