Moral Briefs – Chapter LV – Parental Dignity

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonWe 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 one another.

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 a 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 depositories 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 dignity.

“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.