WE have done with the three commandments that refer directly to God.
The second Table of the Law contains seven precepts that concern
themselves with our relations to God, indirectly, through the creature;
they treat of our duties and obligations toward the neighbor. As God
may be honored, so He may be dishonored, through the works of His hand;
one may offend as effectively by disregard for the law that binds us to
God's creatures as for that which binds us to the Creator Himself.
Since parents are those of God's creatures that stand nearest to us,
the Fourth Commandment immediately orders us to honor them as the
authors of our being and the representatives of divine authority, and
it prescribes the homage we owe them in their capacity of parents. But
that which applies to fathers and mothers, applies in a certain degree
to all who have any right or authority to command; consequently, this
law also regulates the duties of superiors and inferiors in general to
The honor we owe to our parents consists in four things: respect for
their dignity, love for their beneficence, obedience to their authority
and assistance in their needs. Whoever fails in one of these
requirements, breaks the law, offends God and sins. His sin may be
mortal, if the quality of the offense and the malice of the offender be
such as to constitute I serious breach of the law.
'Tis the great fault of our age to underrate parental dignity. In the
easy-going world, preference is given to profligate celibacy over
honorable wedlock; marriage itself is degraded to the level of a purely
natural contract, its bond has lost its character of indissolubility
and its obligations are shirked to meet the demands of fashion and
convenience. When parents, unworthy ones, do not appreciate their own
dignity, how will others, their children, appreciate it? And parenthood
will never be esteemed while its true nature and sanctity are ignored
and contemned; there is no dignity where the idea of God is excluded.
After God had created man, He left him to work out his destiny in a
natural way; and immediately man assumed towards his offspring the
relation that God first held towards himself--he assumed the
prerogatives of paternity and of authority. All paternity belongs to
God, and to Him alone; yet man is delegated to that lofty, quasi-divine
function. God alone can create; yet so near does the parental office
approach to the power of creation that we call it pro-creation.
Tis true, this privilege man holds in common with the rest of animated
nature, but with this difference: that the fruit of his loins is a
child of God, with an immortal soul, an heir to heaven where its
destiny is to glorify the Eternal during all eternity. And thus, man,
in his function of parent, is as far differentiated from the rest of
animal nature as the act by which God created man is superior to all
His other creative acts.
If the tempter, when working out his plan for the fall of our first
parents, had simply and unconditionally said: "Ye shall be as gods,"
his utterance would have in it more truth than he intended, for the
mantle of parenthood that was soon to fall upon them made them like
unto God. The children that romped around them, looked up to them even,
almost, as they were accustomed to look up to the Creator. And little
the wonder, since to their parents they owed their very existence.
As depositaries of authority, there is no human station, however
exalted, comparable to theirs. Children are not merely subjects, they
belong to their parents. Church and State, under God, may see to it
that that authority is not abused; but within the bounds of right, they
are held to respect it; and their acts that go contrary to the exercise
of parental authority are, by the fact of such opposition, null and
void. Before the State or Church, the family was; its natural rights
transcend theirs, and this bowing, as it were, of all constituted human
authority before the dominion of parents is evidence enough of their
"God could not be everywhere, therefore he made parents--fathers and
mothers"--that is how the pagans used to put it. However theologically
unsound this proposition may appear, it is a beautiful attempt at a
great truth, viz., that parents towards us stand in God's stead. In
consequence of this eminent dignity that is theirs, they deserve our
respect. They not only deserve it, but God so ordains it.
Next: FILIAL RESPECT
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