Domestic Church is a new dogma that took hold within twenty-eight years of Vatican II.  Scholars are chary of the new dogma.  Joseph C. Atkinson, in his scholarly article, “Family as Domestic Church: Developmental Trajectory, Legitimacy, and Problems of Appropriation,” is careful to use only the term, Domestic Church, forty-eight times in thirteen pages.  This means that other language to express Domestic Church is risky, because of the lack of theological development.  Unlike usual dogmatic development, Domestic Church developed without supporting theology.  For that reason, these Personal Notes cannot avoid venturing into the missing theology below.[1]  Theology examines the development and ramifications of what Christians believe.


Domestic Church is the smallest unit of Church, smaller than the next smallest unit, the local parish.[2]  Domestic Church is defined in qualitative terms as a unit of education, teaching how to live Christian lives.  In 1981, the future Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla, defined the family as “an educational institution within the framework of which the personality of a new human being is formed.”[3]  In a word, Domestic Church is the family.


Before Constantine (280-337),[4] the Church did regard the family as its smallest unit.  Vatican II (1962-1965)[5] returned to that early understanding.  Vatican II wording draws directly from the words of Saint Augustine (354-430)[6] and indirectly from Saint John Chrysostom (307?-407)[7] and Ephesians 5:32.  Ephesians 5:32, in the Lectionary for today, is the reason these Notes develop the Domestic Church here.  The Lectionary and Vatican II use Ephesians 5:32 as a key verse, “this [sacramental marriage] is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.”[8]


Except in the record of floor discussions, the development of the Domestic Church dogma is not found in the documents of Vatican II.  At Vatican II, the Church was awakening to a new consciousness of the intrinsic relationship between Church and family.  As will be seen, this intrinsic relationship has broad ramifications for the Magisterium.


After Constantine (337), the Church developed an admiration for the celibate life, especially as found in monasteries.  A thousand years passed until Church mentioned marriage as a sacrament at the Council of Florence (1438-1445).[9]  The Council of Trent (1545-1563)[10] defined marriage as a sacrament.  Another half millennium passed before the Church presented the Domestic Church as dogma.  The difference, however, was that theologians developed dogmatic theology for marriage during all of those thousand years, before the Church defined marriage as a sacrament.


In contrast, without theological development, by mentioning the new Domestic Church Dogma in 1992, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated the new dogma.  The Church accepted the idea of Domestic Church in only about twenty-eight years, between first mentioning it in Lumen Gentium no. 11[11] in 1964 and the 1992 Catechism.


There is an issue.  The issue with the family as Domestic Church is hierarchical control.  About fifty years ago, secular sociologists and anthropologists thought marriage was becoming obsolete.  What amazed these scholars was that people still married, but developed new meanings for the institution, around such issues as equal rights, birth control, and women working outside the home.  A healthy marriage is about compromise and negotiations.


As the family deals with new information, information that the institutional Church can ignore and condemn, e.g. Galileo and other scientific truisms, the family is forced to work without further institutional guidance.  This means that so-called cafeteria Catholics, picking and choosing what they accept, are acting as the basic building blocks of the parish and diocese.  Cafeteria Catholics, in as much as their lives are Christ-centered, are the Church.  That is why they do not leave, something the hierarchy does not understand.


With the institution of marriage redefining itself through negotiation and compromise, reflections on this week’s readings offer the Faithful some theology toward the Domestic Church dogma.  The readings the Lectionary presents for this Sunday are all about negotiation and compromise.  Joshua begins by asking the Jewish people whether they want to serve God or some other deity.  Joshua declares that his household will worship God (Joshua 24:15).  Household is family.  God is Father to all families in the Domestic Church.


This is the third Sunday in a row for the 34th Psalm.  Psalm 34:18 emphasizes thanksgiving[12] for what God is doing.[13]  Thanksgiving is an element of negotiation for further blessings from God.  The acrostic nature of Psalm 34[14] is in thanksgiving for the ability to express what God creates through language.  Pastoral Care of the Sick uses verses 2-3 and 16-17 from this reading.[15]  Psalm 34:20 offers a sense of compromise and negotiation, “Many are the troubles of the just one, but out of them all the LORD delivers him.”


Ephesians 5:21-32 offers a lot about compromise and negotiation in how the Lectionary translates the various verses.


Ephesians 5:21 translates fear as reverence.

Lectionary (1998):                        reverence

The Vulgate (circa 410):               timore

Douay-Rheims (1582-1610):         fear

King James (1611):                      fear

Jerusalem (1966):                        in obedience to Christ

New American (1970):                  reverence

New Jerusalem (1985):                reverence


Ephesians 5:33, omitted from the reading, but declaring that men are to love their wives, while their wives are to fear them has the following translations for fear.


Ephesians 5:33

Lectionary (1998):                       

The Vulgate (circa 410):               timeat

Douay-Rheims (1582-1610):         fear

King James (1611):                      reverence

Jerusalem (1966):                        respect

New American (1970):                  respect

New Jerusalem (1985):                respect


The Greek has fear, which may be translated respect.


Translating fear as reverence and respect is a sign of negotiating and compromise.


Ephesians 5:22

Lectionary (1998):                        should be subordinate

The Vulgate (circa 410):               subiecta … in omnibus

Douay-Rheims (1582-1610):         be subject

King James (1611):                      submit yourselves

Jerusalem (1966):                        should regard

New American (1970):                  should be subordinate

New Jerusalem (1985):                should be subject


In omnibus is not literally in the original Greek.


According to Jeremy Corley, Ephesians 5:25, that Christ handed himself over is a Eucharistic allusion to the Last Supper and crucifixion.[16]


Ephesians 5:26

Lectionary (1998):                        to sanctify her cleansing her by the bath of water

The Greek has to sanctify in verse 25, rather than the Vulgate verse 26.

The Vulgate (circa 410):               ut illam sanctificaret mundans lavacro

Douay-Rheims (1582-1610):         might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver

King James (1611):                      might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water

Jerusalem (1966):                        He made her clean by washing her in water

New American (1970):                  to sanctify her cleansing her by the bath of water

New Jerusalem (1985):                to make her holy by washing her in cleansing water


I see no problem above between the different versification between Greek and Vulgate.


Ephesians 5:31

Lectionary (1998):                        shall leave … and be joined

The Vulgate (circa 410):               relinquet … et adhaerebit

Douay-Rheims (1582-1610):         shall leave … and shall cleave

King James (1611):                      shall leave … and shall be joined

Jerusalem (1966):                        must leave … and be joined

New American (1970):                  shall leave … and be joined

(his) father and (his) mother, but without the parentheses in the Lectionary.

New Jerusalem (1985):                leaves … and becomes attached


The grammarian has the sense of adhesive for be joined.  How to describe the new relationship between a man and his mother and his wife differs between cleave and join.  Negotiating the translations described above reflect some of the negotiating Jesus had with his disciples.


John 66:60-69 is about Jesus negotiating with his disciples, asking whether they will leave him, because of the sacredness of his difficult Eucharistic saying.[17]  Saint Peter, not pretending to understand the Eucharist, but realizing that Jesus has the words of everlasting life, declares that there is nowhere else to go.[18]  Earlier, Joshua acted similarly.  The issue is not whether the disciples believed—some did, others did not.  The issue was development in Faith.[19]  Those who believed, let their Faith develop, much as the new Domestic Church is a new Faith development.


Pope John Paul II used John 6:68 in his encyclical on the Eucharist.[20]


Let me share my own faith through the hymn “Adoro Te Devote” (I Adore You Devoutly).  “Behold true body born of Mary, the virgin, which truly suffered and was immolated on the cross for man.  Here our senses (sight, touch, and taste) fail us and faith alone explains the mystery.”  I exclaim like Peter after he had heard Jesus’ Eucharistic teaching, “Lord to whom should we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:68).


God’s Plan


60.          In undertaking the journey into the Third Millennium, we do not need a new program, because the gospels and Church tradition give us a plan which is centered in Christ Himself.  The renewal of Christian living must pass through the Eucharist.


Every Church activity and all pastoral planning must draw its strength from and culminate in the Eucharist.  Without the Eucharist (in which we have Jesus, His redemptive sacrifice His resurrection, His gift of the Spirit and His adoration of the father) we cannot overcome our deficiencies.


61.      There must be no reduction or exploitation.  The Eucharist must be experienced in its integrity, both in celebration and in the prayerful moments afterward.  In these moments, the Church is manifested as the people of God the body and the bride of Christ.


To which I would add, the Domestic Church.


These readings are about the smallest unit of the institutional Church, the family, recognized as the Domestic Church.  The readings begin with the family of Joshua deciding to worship God.  Psalm 34 thanks God for caring for the Faithful.  Ephesians joins the mystery of family life with the mystery of Church life.  The Gospel of John presents the mystery of Eucharistic presence as part of family life for the Faithful.



For more on sources see the Appendix file.  Personal Notes are on the web site at

[1]Joseph C. Atkinson, “Family as Domestic Church: Developmental Trajectory, Legitimacy, and Problems of Appropriation,” Theological Studies Vol. 66, No. 3 (September 2005), 592-604.


[2] Joseph C. Atkinson, “Family as Domestic Church: Developmental Trajectory, Legitimacy, and Problems of Appropriation,” Theological Studies Vol. 66, No. 3 (September 2005), 596.


[3] Karol Wetly, Love and Responsibility (1981) as cited in Joseph C. Atkinson, “Family as Domestic Church: Developmental Trajectory, Legitimacy, and Problems of Appropriation,” Theological Studies Vol. 66, No. 3 (September 2005), 593, fn 4.


[8] Joseph C. Atkinson, “Family as Domestic Church: Developmental Trajectory, Legitimacy, and Problems of Appropriation,” Theological Studies Vol. 66, No. 3 (September 2005), 596, 567, 600, 601.


[11] Joseph C. Atkinson, “Family as Domestic Church: Developmental Trajectory, Legitimacy, and Problems of Appropriation,” Theological Studies Vol. 66, No. 3 (September 2005), 597.


[12] Sue Gillingham, “From Liturgy to Prophecy: The Use of Psalmody in Second Temple Judaism,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 3 (July 2002) 475.


[13] Anthony R. Ceresko, O.S.F.S., “Endings and Beginnings: Alphabetic Thinking and the Shaping of Psalms 106 and 150,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 68, No. 1 (January 2006) 33-37.


[14] Lawrence Boadt, C.S.P., “The Use of “Panels” in the Structure of Psalms 73-78,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 66, No 4 (October 2004) 537.


[15] The Roman Ritual: Revised by Decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and Published by Authority of Pope Paul VI: Pastoral Care of the Sick: Rites of Anointing and Viaticum: Approved for use in the dioceses of the United States of America by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and Confirmed by the Apostolic See: Prepared by International Commission on English in the Liturgy: a Joint Commission of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co. 1983) 286, 324.


[16] Jeremy Corley, “The Pauline Authorship of 1 Corinthians 13,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 2 (April 2004) 269.


[17] Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B., “The Gospel of John as Scripture,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 67, No. 3 (July 2005) 462.


[18] Kelli S. O’Brien, “Written That You May Believe: John 20 and Narrative Rhetoric,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 67, No 2 (April 2005) 291.


[19] Debbie Hunn, Who Are “They” in John 8:33?  the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 3 (July 2004) 390.


[20] “Letter on the Eucharist: Pope John Paul II, A Simplified Version by Rev. Msgr. Vincent M. Walsh” (Merion, PA 19066: Key of David Publications, 2003) 36-37.