Radio Message of Pope Pius XII

La Famiglia (1952)

Radio Message on the Occasion of “Family Day”
March 23, 1952

1. The family is the cradle of the birth and development of a new life, which needs to be cared for and nurtured, lest it perish,: this right and fundamental duty given and imposed immediately by God upon parents.

The content and end of education in the natural order is the development of the child to become a complete man: the content and end of Christian education is the formation of the new human being, reborn in baptism, as a perfect Christian. This obligation, which was always custom and pride of Christian families is solemnly enshrined in canon 1113 of the Code of Canon Law, which reads: “Parentes gravissima obligatione tenentur prolis educationem tum religiosam et moralem, tum physicam et civilem pro viribus curandi, et etiam temporali eorum bono providenti.” “Parents are under a grave obligation to see to the religious and moral education of their children, as well as to their physical and civic training, as far as they can, and moreover to provide for their temporal well-being.”

2. The most pressing questions on this vast subject have been clarified on several occasions by Our Predecessors and by Us Ourselves. Therefore, We now propose to you not to repeat what has already been amply explained, but rather to draw attention to an element, which, although the basis and fulcrum of education, especially a Christian one, instead seems to some, at first glance, almost alien to it.

That is, we would like to speak about what is most profound and intrinsic to man: his conscience. We are obliged to you by the fact that some currents of modern thought are beginning to alter its concept and impugn its value. We will treat, therefore, conscience as the object of education.

3. Conscience is like the most intimate and secret core of man. There he takes refuge with his spiritual faculties in absolute solitude: alone with himself, or rather, alone with God – with whose voice conscience resounds – and with himself. There he determines himself for good or for evil; there he chooses between the path of victory and that of defeat. Even if he wanted to, man would never succeed in getting rid of it; with that [conscience], which either approves or condemns, he will travel the whole journey of life, and equally with that truthful and incorruptible witness, he will present himself at the judgment of God. Conscience is, therefore, to speak of it with an image as old as it is worthy, a άδυτον – a sanctuary, at whose threshold all must stop; even if it is a boy, the father and mother. Only the priest enters there as curator of souls and as minister of the Sacrament of Penance; neither for this reason does conscience cease to be a jealous sanctuary, of which God Himself wants the secrecy guarded with the seal of the most sacred silence.

In what sense, then, can one speak about the education of conscience?


4. It is necessary to turn again to some fundamental concepts of Catholic doctrine in order to duly understand that conscience can and should be educated. The divine Savior has brought to man, ignorant and weak, his truth and his grace: truth to indicate for him the path that leads to his end; grace to confer upon him the strength to be able to reach it. To follow this path means, in practice, accepting the will and the commandments of Christ and conforming one’s life to them, that is, the individual acts, internal and external, which the free human will chooses and settles upon. Now what is the spiritual faculty which, in specific cases points out the self-same will, so that it may choose and determine the actions that are in accordance with the divine will, if not conscience? It is, therefore, a faithful echo, a clear reflection of the divine rule for human actions. Thus expressions such as ‘the judgment of the Christian conscience,’ or else ‘to judge according to the Christian conscience,’ have this meaning: the rule for the ultimate and personal decision for a moral action must be taken from the word and from the will of Christ. He is, in fact, the way, the truth and the life, not only for all men taken together, but for each one individually (Jn 14:6): it is such for the mature man, it is such for the child and the young person.

5. From this, it follows that forming the Christian conscience of a child or a young person consists first of all in enlightening their minds about the will of Christ, his law, his way, and also in acting on their souls, insofar as can be done from outside, similar to persuading them to the free and constant execution of the divine will. This is the greatest task of education.


6. But where shall the educator and the educated find the Christian moral law, concretely and with facility and certainty? In the law of the Creator, engraved on the heart of each one (cf. Rom 2:14-16), and in revelation; that is, in the entirety of the truths and precepts taught by the divine Master. Both the law written in the heart, that is, the natural law, as well as the truths and precepts of supernatural revelation, which Jesus the Redeemer entrusted, as the moral treasure of humanity, into the hands of His Church, so that she may preach them to all creatures, explaining them and transmitting them, intact and free of all contamination and error, from generation to generation.


7. Against this doctrine, uncontested for long ages, there now arise difficulties and objections that must be clarified. As for dogmatic doctrine, so also for the Catholic moral order, one might would want to institute a radical revision in order to deduce a new judgement of it.

The first step, or to say it better, the first blow against the edifice of Christian moral norms would be that of separating them – as is intended – from the constrictive and oppressive vigilance of the authority of the Church, so that, freed from the sophistical subtleties of the casuistic method, morality is restored to its original form and returned to simply the intelligence and determination of the individual conscience.

Everyone sees what disastrous consequences this would lead to, such an devastation of the very foundations of education.

8. Without pointing out the manifest incompetence and immaturity of judgment of those who hold similar opinions, it will be of use to expose the central flaw of this “new morality.” In leaving every ethical criterion to the individual conscience, it jealously closes in on itself and, having been made the absolute arbiter of its own determinations, far from making the way easier for it [conscience], the way, it would divert it from the highroad, which is Christ.

9. The divine Redeemer has entrusted his Revelation, of which moral obligations form an essential part, of course, not to individual men, but rather to His Church, to which he has given the mission to lead them to embrace that sacred deposit with fidelity.

Similarly, divine assistance, ordained to preserve Revelation from errors and from deformations, was promised to the Church and not to individuals. Providence also knowing this, because the Church, a living organism, can thus securely and easily both illuminate and even expound upon moral truths, as well as apply them to the variable conditions of the place and time, while maintaining their substance intact. One may think, for example, about the social doctrine of the Church, which, born to respond to new necessities, in the end is nothing but the application of the perennial Christian morality to the present economic and social circumstances.

10. How it is therefore possible to reconcile the providential instruction of the Savior, who committed the guardianship over the Christian moral patrimony to the Church, with a kind of individualistic autonomy of conscience?

This, stolen from its natural climate, can only produce poisonous fruit, which will recognize only compare them with some characteristics of the traditional conduct and Christian perfection, whose excellence is proven by the incomparable works of the Saints.

The ‘new morality’ affirms that the Church, instead of fostering the law of human liberty and of love, and of demanding of you that dynamics which is worthy of the moral life, instead bases itself almost exclusively and with excessive rigidity, on the firmness and the intransigence of Christian moral laws, frequently resorting to the terms ‘you are obliged’, ‘it is not licit’, which has too much of an air of a degrading pedantry.


11. Now, on the contrary, the Church desires – and it manifests this clearly in forming consciences – that the Christian becomes introduced to the infinite richness of the faith and of grace in a persuasive manner, in such a way that they feel inclined to penetrate them deeply.

The Church, however, cannot refrain from admonishing the faithful that these riches can be neither acquired nor conserved except at the cost of concrete moral obligations. A different approach would end up neglecting a chief principle which Jesus, her Lord and Master, always insisted upon. For he taught that is not enough to say ‘Lord, Lord’ to enter the kingdom of heaven, but one must do the will of the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 7:21).

He spoke of the ‘narrow gate’ and the ‘narrow road’ that leads to life (cf. Mt 7:13-14), and added: ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate: for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able’ (Lk 13:24). He has established the observance of the commandments as the touchstone and the distinctive sign of love for Himself, Christ (Jn 14:21-24). Like unto the rich young man who asks him, He says: ‘If you would enter life, keep the commandments’ and to the the new question, ‘Which ones?’ He answers: ‘Thou shalt not murder! Thou shalt not commit adultery! Thou shalt not steal! Thou shalt not bear false witness! Honor thy father and mother! And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself!’ He sets as a requirement for those who want to imitate him, to renounce himself and to take up his cross every day (cf. Lk 9:23). He demands that a man be ready to leave behind, for the sake of Him and His mission, whatever he has most dear, such as his father, his mother, his own children, and even unto his last possession, his own life (cf. Mt 10:37-39). Since He adds: ‘I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell’ (Lk 12:4-5).

Thus spake Jesus Christ, the divine Pedagogue, who certainly knows better than men how to penetrate souls and to draw them to his love with the infinite perfections of His Heart, ‘bonitate et amore plenum’ [full of goodness and love] (Lit de sacr. Corde Iesu).

12. And did perhaps the Apostle of the Gentiles, St. Paul, preach otherwise? With his vehement voice of persuasion, revealing the mysterious allure of the supernatural world, he opened up the grandeur and splendor of the Christian faith, the riches, the power, the blessing, the happiness contained with it, offering them to souls as the worthy goal of Christian liberty and as the irresistible end of pure impulses of love. But it is no less true that his admonitions are just as many, such as this one: ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil 2:12), and that from his same pen flowed high moral precepts, addressed to all the faithful, whether they are of ordinary intelligence, or rather, souls of high sensitivity. Taking, therefore, the words of Christ and of the Apostle as the strict rule, should not one say that the Church of today is rather inclined more to indulgence than to severity? It so happens that the accusation of oppressive rigidity made against the Church by the ‘new morality,’ in reality, attacks, in the first place, the adorable Person of Christ Himself.

13. Conscious, therefore, of the right and the duty of the Holy Apostolic See to intervene, when it be necessary, authoritatively in moral questions, We, in the address of October 29 last year, proposed to illumine consciences about the problems of conjugal life. With the same authority we declare today to educators and to the same youth: The divine commandment of purity of soul and of body also applies without diminishment to today’s youth. They too have the moral obligation, and with the help of grace, the possibility of keeping themselves pure. Therefore, we reject as erroneous the claim of those who consider failings inevitable in the years of puberty, considered by them of no great import, as if they were not a grave fault, because ordinarily, they add, passion takes away the liberty necessary so that an act is morally imputable.

On the contrary, it is a fitting and wise rule that that the educator, by not neglecting to impress upon the young the noble qualities of purity so as to induce them to love it and desire it for its own sake; nonetheless, he should clearly inculcate the commandment as it stands, in all its gravity and seriousness as a divine ordinance. He will thus urge the young to avoid near occasions [of sin], he will comfort them in the struggle, of which he shall not hide the hardness, he will induce them to embrace courageously that sacrifice which virtue demands, and he will exhort them to persevere and not to fall into the danger of disarming themselves from the beginning and of succumbing without resistance to perverse habits.


14. Even more than in the field of private conduct, there are many today who would like to exclude the domain of the moral law from public life, economic and social, from the action of public authorities internally and externally, in peace and in war, as if God had nothing to say here, at least nothing definitive.

The emancipation from morality of external human activities, such as science, politics, art, morality gets justified at times on philosophical grounds by the autonomy that is under their jurisdiction, in their field, of governing themselves exclusively according to their own laws, although it is recognized that these ordinarily coincide with those morals. And one may go to the example of art, for which not only is any dependency denied, but also any relationship with morality, by saying: Art is just art, and not morality or anything else, based upon, therefore, only the laws of aesthetics, which, however, if they are truly such, will not bend to serve concupiscence. In a similar manner, it is said that politics and economics do not need to take advice from other sciences, and, therefore, from ethics, but, guided by their true laws, they are in themselves good and just.

15. It is, as is seen, a subtle way to steal consciences from the empire of moral laws. In truth, one cannot deny that such autonomies are just, insofar as they express the method proper to each activity and to the boundaries that separate their different forms on theoretical grounds; but the separation of methods should not mean that the scientist, the artist, the politician are free of moral solicitudes in the exercise of their activities, especially if these ones have immediate repercussions in the field of ethics, such as art, politics, and economic . The clear and theoretical separation does not make sense in life, which is always a synthesis, since the sole subject of any kind of activity is the same man, whose free and conscious acts cannot escape moral evaluation. By continuing to observe the problem with an ample and practical view, which is sometimes lacking even for distinguished philosophers, such distinctions and autonomies are times for fallen human nature to represent how the laws of art, politics or economics, that which can instead prove to be convenient for concupiscence, selfishness and greed. Thus the theoretical autonomy from morality becomes, in practice, rebellion against morality, and that harmony which is innate to the sciences and the arts is also broken, which the philosophers of that school acutely observe, but they call it random, while it is, instead, essential, if considered by the subject, who is man, and by his Creator, who is God.

16. Therefore, Our Predecessors and We Ourselves, in the turmoil of the war and in the troubled affairs of the post-war period, we have not ceased to insist on the principle that the order willed by God embraces the whole of life, not excluding public life in all its manifestations, persuaded that in this there is no restriction of true human freedom, nor any interference in the competence of the State, but rather a guarantee against errors and abuses, against which Christian morality, if correctly applied, can protect. These truths must be taught to the young and inculcated in their consciences by those who, in the family or in the school, have the obligation to attend to their education, thus laying the seeds of a better future.


17. That’s what we intend to tell you now, beloved sons and daughters who are listening to Us, and in telling this to you, we have not hidden the anxiety that presses upon Our heart for this formidable problem, which touches the present and the future of the world and the eternal destiny many souls. How much comfort it would give Us to be certain that you share this, Our anxiety for the Christian education of youth! Educate the consciences of your children with persistent and persevering care. Educate them to the fear, as to the love of God. Educate them to the truth. But first be true, yourselves, and banish from the work of education whatever is not honest or true. Impress upon the consciences of young people the genuine concept of freedom, real freedom, worthy and proper to a creature made in the image of God. And dissolution and debauchery is quite another thing; whereas, suitability for the good is proven; and that to be resolved on its own to want it and to do it (cf. Gal 5:13); it is the mastery over one’s own faculties, over instinct, over events. Educate them to pray and to draw upon the sources of Penance and of the Most Holy Eucharist, that which nature cannot give: the strength not to fall, the strength to rise again. They already sense from the young that without the help of these supernatural forces they would not succeed in being either good Christians or simply honest men, whose legacy is a serene life. But thus prepared, they will also be able to aspire to the highest excellence, they will be able give themselves over, that is, to that great task in itself, the fulfillment of which will be their merit: to make Christ present in their lives.

18. To achieve this end, We urge all Our beloved sons and daughters of the great human family to be closely united with each other: united in the defense of truth, for the spreading of Christ’s kingdom upon the earth. Every division is banished, any dissent is removed; make sacrifices generously – whatever the cost – for this greater good, for this supreme ideal, every particular view, every subjective preference; ‘If evil greed would summon you elsewhere,’ may your Christian conscience win every test, so that the enemy of God “among you not may deride you” (Dante, Paradiso, Canto V, 79, 81). The vigor of healthy education is proven in its fruitfulness for all peoples, who fear for the future of their youth. Thus shall the Lord pour out upon you and upon your families the abundance of His graces, in pledge of which We impart to you with paternal affection the Apostolic Blessing.

[Original Source (Italian): Acta Apostolicae Sedis, vol. 44 (1952): pp. 270-278. Translation Source: Rorate Caeli. Translated by Andrew Guernsey. Translator is not affiliated with Novus Ordo Watch.]

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