Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Family of Nations


I follow several of my friends here at the Mirror of Justice today by commenting on Pope Benedict’s final General Audience exhortation. He spoke of the nature of the Church, and he spoke of the family of nations. I think the two topics he addressed are connected.

During the pontificate of the “war pope” Benedict XV, Papa della Chiesa would often speak of the family of nations. In one of his allocutions concerning the need for a “league of nations” which he supported, he mentioned that the better term would be the family of nations. I think Benedict XV had in mind a place where the peoples of the worlds could come together as a sort of family and address their concerns about peace, natural justice, and right order in the world. States are instruments of but not the peoples themselves; they are the ones who are the true members of the family of nations. I was reminded of this all the more when I recalled that my college advisor from 1968 to 1970, Dr. Jeane Kirkpatrick, told me and my classmates about a sign she often saw in her beloved France which said something like, “republics come and republics go, but Duron Paints stay on forever!” In essence, the point was that governments and political parties are transient things, but there are some things which endure. Surely peoples, the nations, the gens fall into the latter category. It is the peoples not the states who are the true elements of the family of nations. In this context, one is reminded of another expression that used to be recited at papal installations: “Sic transit gloria mundi!”

I think it no coincidence that Benedict XVI spoke of the family of nations today. Their states may come and go, but the peoples who constitute the family of nations will go on in spite of what happens to the temporal authorities of the world. The people go on while governments come and go. This is where his many references to the Church and her nature come into play and it intersects with but is not precisely the same as the family of nations. In one of his remarks, he stated that “the Church is—not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian purposes, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. To experience the Church in this way and almost be able to touch with one’s hands the power of His truth and His love, is a source of joy, in a time in which many speak of its decline.”

Here the Holy Father was referring to the union of Christ and His people—the vine and His branches. We branches grafted onto the vine of Christ receive our life, our wisdom, and our energy from Him. The will we exercise should also be formed not by our selfish desires but by our discipleship as followers of Christ. The Holy Father suggested this when he said today, “Loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult, trying choices, having ever before oneself the good of the Church and not one’s own.” It is this manner of understanding the Church that can positively affect the family of nations. Political parties and government institutions come and go, but the Church and the family of nations continue notwithstanding the obstacles that both meet.

In his final general exhortation to the Church and to the family of nations, Benedict XVI has helped us chart a course for tomorrow and for thereafter. While he will no longer be with us as Peter, he will remain with us in prayer. It was suggested by Thomas More that prayer is a good way to govern, and I will add to govern the Church and the family of nations.


RJA sj



Araujo, Robert | Permalink


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"Sic transit gloria mundi" was indeed thrice recited in anticipation of each papal *coronation* from the middle ages through that of Paul VI in 1963. The later "installations" of the Popes are another matter.

Posted by: Patrick McKinley Brennan | Feb 27, 2013 7:42:43 PM