The Second Vatican Council wrote in Lumen gentium 11 (English, Latin):

The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state.

In hac velut Ecclesia domestica parentes verbo et exemplo sint pro filiis suis primi fidei praecones, et vocationem unicuique propriam, sacram vero peculiari cura, foveant oportet.

In The Splendor of Faith: The Theological Vision of Pope John Paul II (Crossroad, 1999; 2nd ed. 2003), Cardinal Avery Dulles writes (p146 of the 2003 edition, which I have read only on Google snippet view):

John Paul II has frequently repeated the term ecclesia domestica without adding the qualifier veluti ("as it were") used by the council.

Dulles' cited examples are Catechesi tradendae 68 (1979), Familiaris consortio 49-52 (1981), and Evangelium vitae 92 (1995). John Paul II's homily Expedit ut laborem (26 Sept 1980) also speaks of the family's place as "ecclesiola" seu ecclesia domestica; and his statement in Familiaris consortio 21 that

The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion, and for this reason too it can and should be called "the domestic Church."

can now be found in the Catechism (s. 2204). A footnote in FC refers to Lumen gentium and to Paul VI's Apostolicam actuositatem 11 (1965) - which says that the family fulfils its mission "if it appears as the domestic sanctuary of the Church" (my emphasis; the Latin is tamquam domesticum sanctuarium Ecclesiae se exhibeat).

It's not hard to find bundles of sources for the family being a good thing, and support for its special role in education. But it seems, especially in FC, that John Paul II gives the family a theologically elevated position, as an explicit Church-in-miniature, and that this is a novel development - whereas previous authorities used the phrase more cautiously. Is this actually novel? I would be interested in finding earlier (pre-Council) sources for this theology, or alternatively an explanation of how it differs from prior explanations of the ecclesial role of the family.

(I should say that I don't have a problem with novelty, so this isn't intended to be a criticism! I'm just interested in the history of the idea.)

  • it might be impossible to know, but those could have been Bl. John Paul's words in Lumen Gentium too, right?
    – Peter Turner
    Jul 8, 2013 at 11:33
  • I think it is intentional that JPII elevates a family to a theologically significant level. It would be consistent with his Theology of the Body. But, I am not sure if the distinction you point out is novel or significant. For example, Marriage is a sacrament - a sign of god. Clearly it implies a "good" marriage as I am sure an abusive one, although still intended to show God, does not do so in this state
    – Greg Bala
    Jul 8, 2013 at 18:28
  • Might be notable that the Catechism says that Ecclesia domestica is an "ancient expression" in paragraph 1656. It cites the same two documents though.
    – svidgen
    Jul 15, 2013 at 16:53
  • 2
    Just poking around a few random articles and letters, there are quite a few documents that say things like, "the early Church fathers often spoke of the family as the domestic church." I'm starting to think the precise phrasing may be new(ish), but the concept is ancient. It's certainly visible to some extent even in some of the NT letters which exhort people to live as full members of society, but being Christians and examples, etc.
    – svidgen
    Jul 15, 2013 at 17:09

3 Answers 3


Please consider this only the start of an answer, I don't know too much about it and the Internet isn't much help.

My wife and I participated in a Marriage Encounter Weekend, part of Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME) this weekend and it was mentioned the idea of "Little Churches". In the back of the booklet there was a timeline that gave the progression of events that led to the creation of the WWME community.

It's very beginning is traced back to the conferences given by Spanish Priest, Fr. Gabriel Calvo starting in 1952 as part of the "Marriage teams of Pope Pius XII".

There was a teaching, which for your benefit although it made me sound like a know-it-all doorknob Catholic. I specifically asked one of the facilitators about one of the ideas in the weekend called "Little Churches", where it is specifically mentioned, although not attributed to any pope or council, the idea that the family is a little church. I asked him if it came from John Paul II, and he said yeah, the Theology of the Body has a lot to do with the ideas WWME incorporates into the presentations (although certainly not explicitly), but the Little Church idea was present in his first encounter, which was 30 years ago.

So, that doesn't particularly help since the time-line puts it at the same time. But I'd be hard-pressed to assume that particular theological point (as pertinent was it is) would get incorporated into WWME that quickly, which was clearly a product of the 1960's. I almost think the Pope was more influenced by them than the other way around!

  • Thank you for this. It sounds more and more like John Paul II was bringing forward and expounding something which was previously part of the sense of the Church but not necessarily in the foreground of her teaching.
    – James T
    Jul 15, 2013 at 20:44

"Velut ecclesia domestica". The responsible is the bishop of Prato (Italy) Pietro Fiordelli (+ dic. 12 2004). About him spoke Enzo Bianchi prior of Bose Monanstery (Italy): "Giovanni Crisostomo diceva ai cristiani: “Fate della vostra casa una chiesa”, e Agostino parlava di “chiesa domestica”, perché c’è analogia tra chiesa e famiglia». Ed ha aggiunto: «È stato un mio grande amico, il vescovo di Prato mons. Pietro Fiordelli, che ha fatto introdurre nella Lumen Gentium queste parole: “In questa che si potrebbe chiamare chiesa domestica (In hac velut ecclesia domestica), i genitori devono essere per i loro figli i primi maestri della fede e assecondare la vocazione propria di ognuno”." About Pietro Fiordelli see also this link: http://www.ilregno.it/ew/ew_page/news/Sessione%20II%20-%20Servizio%20speciale%208.pdf at page 87 About "velut chiesa domestica" se the book Titolo del Libro: Familia christiana velut Ecclesia domestica secondo l'insegnamento del Concilio Vaticano II. Analisi teologica del dato conciliare Autore : Colombo Ferdinando A. Editore: Urbaniana University Press Collana: Dissertationes urbanianae Data di Pubblicazione: 1996 Genere: Religione Pagine: 254 ISBN-10: 8840136096 ISBN-13: 9788840136097


the position expressed in the book of the link is uncorrect: http://books.google.it/books?id=DlIZAISeBVgC&pg=PA91&lpg=PA91&dq=velut+ecclesia+domestica&source=bl&ots=7QRYyNhomc&sig=vsY70vgRRyNUx_tUrhdNWnimlXY&hl=it&sa=X&ei=pKLbUc2XH8XmOpjIgKgH&ved=0CGEQ6AEwCTgK#v=onepage&q=velut%20ecclesia%20domestica&f=false page 91

see the position of bishop Fiordelli in the book http://books.google.it/books?id=yexrUpSIv9sC&printsec=frontcover&hl=it#v=onepage&q&f=false

page 37 God bless


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