Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Education)

Schools and Centres


First Supervisor

Professor Gerard O'Shea

Second Supervisor

Dr Anne-Marie Irwin


This project explores the development of the theology of the domestic church and how it can be implemented in Catholic families. It investigates the origin of the phrase domestic church, traces its development over centuries, and considers the implications this has on the Church and families. The overall objective of this project is to inquire into the significance of this term and identify the principles that ought to be incorporated in a practical resource for families.

The project begins with a comprehensive analysis of the origins of the term domestic church, and how it developed over time. It investigates why this phrase was revived during the Second Vatican Council, after lying dormant for several centuries, and how it developed in the intervening years since the Council. The reintroduction of the term domestic church sparked a renewed interest in the role of the family, and this project takes the view that further developments in this area of theology still remain if we are to understand and support families in their plight to educate children in faith.

Chapter One traces the origin of the domestic church, beginning with its emergence in the Old Testament. It explores the scriptural and patristic teachings of the family through the lens of Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Augustine. What emerges is an integrated understanding of the family, which recognises this cell not just as a series of relationships originating in the procreative love of spouses, but also as the primary place of education in faith.

Chapter Two investigates how and why the idea of the domestic church was recovered during the Second Vatican Council. With an analysis of the contributions made by the pivotal figure, Bishop Pietro Fiordelli, it explores the implications of the Ressourcement of this patristic term. This chapter is followed by an outline of Conciliar and post-Conciliar magisterial documents, which furthered the revival of the theology of the domestic church. Chapter Three also takes a more practical focus, considering the initiatives and projects that were suggested by Pope John Paul II to provide concrete support to families in their mission to educate.

Chapter Four then investigates how the post-Conciliar doctrines and suggestions of the Ressourcement have been received and applied. Through an analysis of various initiatives on a diocesan and local level, what begins to emerge is a disparity between doctrine and application. This chapter considers the work and contributions of several key figures, namely Bishop Samuel Aquila, Gerard O’Shea, and Joseph Atkinson.

The final chapter extends this investigation, exploring the future direction of the post-Conciliar doctrines. It discusses the current theology of the family, through a Trinitarian-Christocentric lens, and how this can be developed in order to bridge the gap between doctrine and application. This discussion reveals the need to delve deeper into the theology of the domestic church and consider practical ways to provide support for families.

The second part of this project is an intervention program, which applies the research from this thesis into a practical handbook. It is intended to provide parents with the necessary content and tools that will support them in their mission as primary educators, and ultimately assist them in forming their own domestic church.

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