AUTHORITY AND OBEDIENCE
AUTHORITY means the right to command; to command is to exact obedience,
and obedience is submission of one's will to that of another, will is a
faculty that adores its own independence, is ambitious of rule and
dominion, and can hardly bear to serve. It is made free, and may not
bend; it is proud, and hates to bend; some will add, it is the dominant
faculty in man, and therefore should not bend.
Every man for himself; we are born free; all men are equal, and no one
has the right to impose his will upon another; we are directly
responsible to God, and "go-betweens" are repudiated by the common
sense of mankind,--this is good Protestant theory and it is most
convenient and acceptable to the unregenerate heart of man. We
naturally like that kind of talk; it appeals to us instinctively. It is
a theory that possesses many merits besides that of being true in a
sense in which only one takes it out of fifty who advocate it.
But these advocates are careful--and the reason of their solicitude is
anything but clear--to keep within the religious lines, and they never
dare to carry their theory into the domain of political society; their
hard common sense forbids. And they are likewise careful to prevent
their children from practicing the doctrine within the realm of
paternal authority, that is, if they have any children. Society calls
it anarchy, and parents call it "unnatural cussedness;" in religion it
is "freedom of the children of God!"
If there is authority, there must be obedience; if one has the right to
command, there arises in others the correlative duty and obligation to
submit. There is no question of how this will suit us; it simply does
not, and will not, suit us; it is hard, painful and humiliating, but it
is a fact, and that is sufficient.
Likewise, it is a fact that if authority was ever given by God to man,
it was given to the parent; all men, Protestants and anarchists alike,
admit this. The social being and the religious being may reject and
repudiate all law, but the child is subject to its parents, it must
obey. Failing in this, it sins.
Disobedience is always a sin, if it is disobedience, that is, a refusal
to submit in things that are just, to the express command of paternal
authority. The sin may be slight or grievous, the quality of its malice
depending on the character of the refusal, of the things commanded and
of the command itself. In order that the offense may be mortal, the
refusal must be deliberate, containing an element of contempt, as all
malicious disobedience does. The command must be express, peremptory,
absolute. And nothing must be commanded done that may not reasonably be
accomplished or is not within the sphere of parental jurisdiction or is
contrary to the law of God.
An order that is unreasonable or unlawful is invalid. Not only it may,
but it should be, disregarded. It is not sufficient for a parent,
wishing to oblige under pain of grievous sin, that he ask a thing done,
that he express his mind on the matter; he must order it and leave no
room to doubt that he means what he says. There may be disobedience
without this peremptoriness of command, but it cannot be a serious
fault. It is well also to make certain allowance for the levity and
thoughtlessness of youth, especially in matters whose importance is
beyond their comprehension.
It is generally admitted that parental authority, exercised in things
that concern good morals and the salvation of the soul, can scarcely
ever be ignored without mortal offending. This means that besides the
sin committed--if the prohibition touches matters of sin--there is a
sin specifically different and a grievous one, of disobedience; by
reason of the parental prohibition, there are two sins, instead of one.
This should be remembered by those who, against the express command of
their parents, frequent bad companions, remain on the street at night,
neglect their religious duty, etc.
Parents have nothing to say in the choice their children make of a
state in life, that is, they may suggest, but must not coerce. This is
a matter that depends on personal tastes and the inner voicings of the
spirit; having come to the age of manhood or womanhood, the party
interested knows best what walk of life will make him or her happy and
salvation easier. It is therefore for them to choose, and their choice
must be respected. In this they are not bound to obey the will of their
parents, and if disinclined to do so, should not.
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