Moral Briefs – Chapter LVIII – Authority and Obedience

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonAuthority means the right to command; to command is to exact obedience, and obedience is the submission of one’s will to that of another. The 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 ma.y 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.