Pope Leo XIII on the Authority of the Father – Rerum Novarum


These passages are taken from the Encyclical letter written by Pope Leo XIII:

Right of Ownership by Head of the Family

  1. There is no question that in choosing a state of life it is within the power and discretion of the individuals to prefer the one or the other state, either to follow the counsel of Jesus Christ regarding virginity or to bind oneself in marriage. No law of man can abolish the natural and primeval right of marriage, or any way set aside the chief purpose of matrimony established in the beginning by the authority of God: “Increase and multiply.” (Gen. 1.28). Behold, therefore, the family, or rather the society of the household, a very small society indeed, but a true one, and older than any polity! For that reason it must have certain rights and duties of its own entirely independent of the State. Thus, right of ownership, which we have shown to be bestowed on the individual persons by nature, must be assigned to man in his capacity as head of family. Nay, rather, this right is all the stronger since the human person in family life embraces much more.

Authority of the Father

  1. It is a most sacred law of nature that the father of a family see that his offspring are provided with all the necessities of life, and nature even prompts him to desire to provide and to furnish his children, who in fact reflect and in a sense continue his person, with the means of decently providing themselves against harsh fortune in the uncertainties of life. He can do this surely in no other way than by owning fruitful goods to transmit by inheritance to his children. As already noted, the family, like the State, is by the same token a society in the strictest sense of the term, and it is governed by its own proper authority, namely, by that of the father. Wherefore, assuming, of course, that those limits be observed which are fixed by its immediatepope-leo-xiii-on-the-father purpose, the family assuredly possesses rights, at least equal with those of civil society, in respect to choosing and employing the things necessary for its protection and its liberty. We say “at least equal” because, inasmuch as domestic living together is prior both in thought and in fact to uniting into a polity, it follows that its rights and duties are also prior and more in conformity with nature. But if citizens, if families, after becoming participants in common life and society, were to experience injury in a commonwealth instead of help, impairment of their rights instead of protection, society would be something to be repudiated rather than to be sought for.

– Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum – 


– Lucas G. Westman

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