Authority and Obedience
by John A. Hardon, S.J.
The concept of obedience to superiors is built into the history of civilized
society, and no culture worthy of the name has existed without stressing the
respect which is due to legitimate authority or the duties of those in command.
While much diluted through centuries of use, the very word piety, derived from
the Latin pietas, basically means devotion to the source of our being
beginning with the parents to whom we owe physical existence, to the state
which is responsible for our social well-being.
Among the ancient Chinese, for example, Confucian ethics placed the family
at the foundation of the whole political and communal structure of the state.
Even the sovereign could rule successfully only if he imitated the paternal
relationship that should obtain in the family. In proportion as the domestic
virtues of kindness, obedience to authority, respect for elders, and devotion
to the memory of one's ancestors were cultivated, the civic life of the nation
was considered assured.
All the extant codes of law from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, going back to
the second and third millennium before Christ, universally mention the obligations
that children have towards their parents, subjects to their rulers, workmen
to their employers and the correlative responsibilities on the other side. A
single provision of the Code of Hammurabi (1728 -1686 B.C.) is eloquent testimony
to the high regard in which respect for one's parents was held among the Babylonians:
"If a son has struck his father, they shall cut off his hand." (1)
If the sanctions among these Orientals were extreme, at least the underlying
principle was commonly recognized that without some kind of jurisdiction no
society can exist and that the welfare of families and nations depends on obedience
to those in authority.
Duties to Parents
In Judaeo-Christianity, the Decalogue is the primary source of moral obligations
which children owe their parents, epitomized in the deceptively short commandment,
"Honor your father and mother." (2) If the duty arose from the natural
law, it was given a religious context, both because it was specially commanded
by Yahweh and because it carried with it a divine imperative and promise, assuring
those who honored their parents a lifetime of prosperity from God.
Although among the Jews the father had the great power in the family, yet the
mother also had a claim to honor and obedience from the children, and the proverb
poets require that she be respected even as the father. The classic passage
in the Old Testament occurs in the Wisdom of Sirach.
Children, pay heed to a father's right; do so that you may live. For the Lord
sets a father in honor over his children; a mother's authority He confirms over
He who honors his father atones for sins; he stores up riches who reveres his
mother. He who honors his father is gladdened by children, and when he prays
he is heard. He who reveres his father will live a long life; and he obeys the
Lord who brings comfort to his mother.
He who fears the Lord honors his father, and serves his parents as rulers.
In word and deed honor your father that his blessing may come upon you; for
a father's blessing gives a family roots, but a mother's curse uproots the growing
Children are to be grateful to their parents, for without them they would have
no existence: "With your whole heart honor your father; your mother's birthpangs
forget not. Remember, of these parents you were born; what can you give them
for all they gave you?" (4) God Himself is declared to be the source of
parental rights, and therefore children are bound in religious duty to obey
their instructions: "Observe, my son, your father's bidding, and reject
not your mother's teaching; keep them fastened over your heart always, put them
around your neck; for the bidding is a lamp, and the teaching a light, and a
way of life are the reproofs of discipline." (5)
The Scriptures always distinguish between obedience to parents for those who
are still young and under parental care, and honor towards parents even when
children grow up and may have reared families of their own. Obedience, then,
is a temporary obligation, conditioned by time and circumstances, but respect
is a life-long duty that ceases only with death. Thus when parents become old
and feeble, the children must still honor and provide for them in a kindly way:
"My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long
as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate with him; revile him not
in the fullness of your strength. For kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
it will serve as a sin offering it will take lasting root. In time of tribulation
it will be recalled to your advantage, like warmth upon frost it will melt away
your sins. A blasphemer is he who despises his father; accursed of his Creator,
he who angers his mother." (6)
Few themes in the Bible are more soberly menacing than the blessings that grateful
and respectful children may expect from God, or the punishments to be visited
on those who gravely violate the precepts of piety. The one who honors his parents,
expiates his sins, and those who honor their mothers are like men hoarding up
a rich treasure. (7) They will be rewarded by their own children, their prayers
will be answered, and they will experience the truth of the promise that as
they have treated their parents, so will they be treated by their offspring
In many ways, the New Testament simply confirmed the teachings of the Old,
and, when Christ was asked by the rich young man what he should do to enter
eternal life, he was told, among other things, to honor his father and mother.
Yet Christianity added a new dimension to the Old Law and made explicit what
was often merely implied in the earlier dispensation. By and large, the stress
in former times was on the observance of precepts that had to do with external
conduct; and, without denying the need for internal motivation, the emphasis
was not on the interior dispositions of soul. In the New Covenant, however,
there was an interiority about all the commandments, including honor to one's
parents, to a point unheard of in previous injunctions.
The Sermon on the Mount is a mosaic of new depth in the practice of justice
and charity, bidding Christians not only not to kill but not even to use offensive
language against the neighbor, not only to love others but even to love their
enemies and do good to those who are hateful. By analogy, then, the duties of
children towards their parents, on the triple plane of love, honor and obedience,
are sublimated in the Christian ethic far above what they had been before. If
this means extraordinary generosity, the means of grace are ready at hand, even
to performing acts of heroism, if need be, in the pursuit of filial virtue.
Coming down to particulars, children ought to show their love by helping parents
with housing, food, clothing, medical care, and other necessities, as far as
their own resources permit. One of the acutest problems facing countries like
the United States is adequate care for the aged, where the basic responsibility
rests with the younger generation of sons and daughters whose parents are either
invalids or at least depend on physical and other assistance in their declining
years. The issue is so critical because the life span has been greatly increased
in the past generation, due mainly to the advances in medical science. Life
expectancy in America for men rose each decade from 1900 to 1960 as follows:
48.2, 50.2, 60.6, 66.3, 67.3; and for women, in the same period: 44.5. 51.1,
53.6. 60.6, 67.3, 72.0, 73.9. In other words, the average life of men and women
was increased over fifty per cent since the turn of the century. As a result,
millions of parents are now living years after their children reach maturity
and beyond middle age, so that a new factor has entered the complex of filial
responsibility, and no amount of legislation in favor of our "senior citizens"
can supply for the basic sense of duty among the children themselves.
As experience shows, old age brings many trying ailments and inconveniences
that younger people are spared. A person advanced in years may feel psychologically
isolated from those with whom he lives. For years his family looked to him for
advice and financial help, and gave him the companionship he craved; with his
powers weakened and dependence on others increased, he may be ignored or shoved
aside and made to feel he is either not wanted or certainly a burden to those
on whom perhaps he spent all his energy and fortune. Loneliness and a feeling
of futility are the common lot of most people at some time in their lives, but
never more so than as a person reaches advanced age.
In the spirit of Christian piety, however, instead of feeling themselves abandoned
or forgotten, these old men and women should be the most revered members of
the family circle. They are in the evening of life and have a right not only
to rejoice in the memory of happiness gone by, but to feel they are still wanted
and needed and loved. There can be an unconscious tyranny of youth towards the
aging or elderly, so that older people will have the sense of intrusion even
where they have a perfect right to be present.
Painful statistics on the neglect of the aged suggest the difficulties inherent
in the precept of honoring one's parents until death.
On the specific duty of obedience to parents before a child reaches maturity
or leaves home to start a family of his own, the only real limitation is when
they might command something sinful. No human authority has a right to order
something against the will of God. Short of this obvious exception, parents
may tell their children to do whatever seems best to them, even when another
course might possibly be more efficient or less inconvenient. The reason is
that parents hold the place of God with respect to their children, and are divinely
authorized to spell out the natural law and its implications for those whom
nature has placed under their care. Any other estimate of parental authority
is not even good pragmatism, since the native instinct to independence is too
strong to be controlled without such religious motivation.
One subtlety in the notion of obedience deserves clarification because of its
application in a later context. Parents do not have to make an explicit demand
of obedience or expressly intend to bind their children under them. They have
a divinely-authorized right to be obeyed, and the extent of their children's
obligation depends on what and how much the parents wish to be obeyed. In practice,
it is recommended that children learn to distinguish between something a mother
or father would like to have done, as a choice or option, and what they want
under obedience. And, of course, all the norms that common sense dictates should
be observed in telling children what to do. The apostle's advice to fathers
not to provoke their sons is good psychology because it takes cognizance of
a fundamental rule in governing people: do not impose your will on others
but, as far as possible, propose what you wish done without harshness
and you may expect to be obeyed with ease.
Obligations Towards Children
Parental rights imply corresponding obligations, and these may be summed up
in two words, nurture and education, which span the whole gamut of responsibilities
shared by parents who are not only to bring their offspring into the world but
also care for them physically, mentally, morally and spiritually until such
time as the children can competently take care of themselves.
Human beings are unlike animals in remaining helpless for a long time and relatively
dependent for years after birth. This implies the natural duty incumbent on
parents to meet the helplessness and supply their children's needs. Child psychologists
define infancy as the period from birth to about thirty months, during which
physical needs predominate. While some experts place great stress on the techniques
of infant care, all emphasize the prior importance of a right kind of attitude,
especially in the mother, when caring for her child. This is visualized in American
culture as loving, tolerant, and permissive, joined to an early training in
those external habits that will later become rooted in moral virtues.
As the child develops, he gains a certain amount of autonomy, which he enjoys
and usually grasps eagerly. Learning to walk, talk, feed and care for his bodily
needs, he also learns that his freedom is far from complete. At this critical
stage he should be trained to yield to authority as one phase in the development
of his autonomy. He must be helped to see that independence may be safely exercised
only within certain cultural limitations, that is, within the role of an obedient
child. His mother being his chief teacher, her most effective method will be
through the example she gives and the degree to which she can evoke responsive
love from a child that is still dependent on her and is conscious of his need
of her loving protection.
In the next stage, to the age of five or six, the dominant trait is a gradual
unfolding of the mind, so that the child now not only obeys his parents to please
them (or from fear of being punished), but he begins to learn the rudiments
of right and wrong as taught by his father and mother. Even in their absence,
he starts to conform to their standards of right and wrong. His conscience begins
to operate, although still on the primary level of reflecting what the parents
stand for. He has begun to internalize their actions by adopting their standards
and dimly perceiving their beliefs and values.
From the age of six to thirteen or fourteen, the child changes his environment
for many hours each school day, and is faced with new demands on his behavior.
Coming out of the protective and relatively permissive atmosphere of home, he
is now required to conform to routine and regulation, some of which may be easy
to accept, but a great deal is also confining or (as progressive educationists
would say) repressive. Schools are not apt to treat the child in terms of his
private idiosyncrasies, as parents often do, and no small part of the child's
education at this stage depends on a close cooperation between home and school
- where the parents support the school authority and discipline, and the school
recognizes its minor role of parental delegate, not substitute.
During the time of middle childhood, children normally become more and more
independent of their parents, not only as regards physical needs, but also in
matters of judgment and morality. Their conscience develops along lines that
rest on abstract principles rather than on specific approval or disapproval
of their elders. Hence the importance of cultivating this faculty in the right
direction, especially in training the young to obey the inner voice even when
external pressures are absent or when, perhaps, following its dictates may actually
bring humiliations or worse. Parents will not do this unless they recognize
conscience for what it is, the voice of God in man, speaking to his mind through
reason and the impulses of grace. Newman's description of conscience is a lesson
to parents, instructing them in the rudiments of moral pedagogy, to recognize
that children have a more suasive preceptor deep in their souls than ever could
be the words of mother or father, as important as these may be. Awareness of
this fact will go far towards instilling a consciousness of God's presence that
is priceless for developing moral balance and a Christian character.
Inanimate things cannot stir our affections, these are correlative with persons.
If, as is the case, we feel responsibility, are ashamed, are frightened, at
transgressing the voice of conscience, this implies that there is One to whom
we are responsible, before whom we are ashamed, whose claims upon us we fear.
If on doing wrong, we feel the same tearful, brokenhearted sorrow which overwhelms
us on hurting a mother; if on doing right, we enjoy the same sunny serenity
of mind, the same soothing, satisfactory delight which follows on our receiving
praise from a father, we certainly have within us the image of some person,
to whom our love and veneration look, in whose smile we find our happiness,
for whom we yearn, towards whom we direct our pledges, in whose anger we are
troubled and waste away.
These feelings in us are such as require for their exciting cause an intelligent
being; we are not affectionate towards a stone, nor do we feel shame before
a horse or a dog, we have no remorse on breaking a mere human law; yet so it
is, conscience excites in us all these painful emotions, and on the other hand
it sheds upon us a deep peace, a sense of serenity and resignation and a hope
which there is no sensible, no earthly object to elicit. (8)
The only mistake would be for parents to suppose these sentiments are pious
rhetoric and smile at the idea of training their children from tenderest years
to listen to the whisperings of conscience and recognize it as the inner sanctuary
to which all human judgments must have recourse.
Adolescence has been called the period of unco-ordination for many youth. At
some time early in their teens, the girl becomes a woman and the boy a man.
Incidentally, the biological growth is not always going on at the same rate
for all parts of organism. At one point it may seem that a person is all nose,
or all feet, or all face when they seem too large for the rest of the body.
In the same way, not all adolescents develop at the same rate; some grow so
fast they feel awkward in their own age group, and others so slow they become
objects of notice (or derision) for being too small. Boys and girls do not develop
at the same pace. Most girls experience the usual pre-adolescent growth spurt
at about eleven, puberty or first menstruation at thirteen, followed by other
developments into womanhood. Masculine patterns are similar but start a year
or two later. Girls become interested in boys about two years earlier than the
boys of their own age become interested in girls.
Here the problem of adjustment is so acute, that unless parents are both aware
of what is going on in their children and do all they can to assist them, maladjustments
may develop which can be difficult to change in later years. Sympathetic understanding
and a strong sense of right and wrong must be communicated to the adolescents,
who feel themselves physically equal or superior to adults, but recognize their
Sexual drives come to full maturity during this period, and the hyperstimulation
of modern society tends to exaggerate the importance of sex in young people's
lives, to the point of preoccupation. The control of these drives and the problems
to which they give rise will be seen in a later context. We are here concerned
only with parental responsibility.
Assuming the need of careful nurture along moral and religious lines, a large
contributing factor that helps children meet the demands of adolescence properly
is the right kind of sex education by the parents that carries through from the dawn of reason (as early as the age of three) to the full
maturity of adulthood (at eighteen or older, if need be). Failure to do this,
or to do it incorrectly, often leads to moral complications not only in adolescence
but into married life, sometimes with devastating consequences to many others
than the person himself.
Experts in child psychology suggest that sex education should be gradual, private
as far as possible, repeated for clarification and emphasis, and continued throughout
the whole period of growth for at least fifteen years. It is remarkable how
many otherwise well-meaning parents are either unaware of these norms, or carelessly
ignore what generations of experience have taught us about the imparting of
knowledge in matters of sex. (9)
The gradualness of sex education is only common sense. Some people imagine
that a single "heart to heart" talk with their offspring is enough,
as though any body of information could be imparted en bloc and expected
to be assimilated at one gulp! When a child of six asks what makes an automobile
go, a mother does not try to explain (if she could) all the principles of auto
mechanics. She simply answers, "Gasoline," or "the motor,"
and lets it go at that. In the same way, the same basic subject matter is covered
in grammar school, in high school, and again in college on the assumption that
the human mind learns gradually, and with the passage of time is better able
to grasp what before was only vaguely surmised.
Besides the native limitations of the mind is the presence of concupiscence,
which warns against awakening a child's sexual passions too soon. The quantity
of Freudian literature, which crudely takes for granted that all children from
the age of two or three are already erotic, only highlights the need for clarity
and prudence in this delicate area. Without subscribing to the theory, it is
instructive to read what psychoanalysts say about the so-called "phallic
phase" of a child's life, around the age of three. At this stage, it is
said, when the child becomes interested in the organs of reproduction as a source
of pleasure, the central phenomenon is the "Oedipus complex."
A child's attachment to the parent of the opposite sex becomes compounded with
the competing demands of the parent of the same sex, leading to feelings of
hostility to the latter. The paths of development are somewhat different for
the boy and the girl. The boy becomes erotically attached to his mother, wants
her exclusive love, and feels jealous of his father, whom he views as a rival
for the mother's affection. However, the parents do not allow the boy to gain
The girl, in this phase, becomes strongly attached to her father and feels
hostile and jealous towards her mother
But the girl, too, in the ordinary course
of development, is prohibited or shamed out of her love-choice, and, fearing
punishment and loss of love, represses her erotic desires towards her father.
Omitting the more salacious references in this manual on child development,
it is still clear that by Freudian standards the libido may be aroused earlier
than most people suspect, and therefore sex instruction should be gradual, or
take the responsibility for stirring up unnatural impulses.
The recommendation for privacy in imparting sex information refers mainly to
the intimate facts of sex life, and once more assumes that careless imparting
of knowledge too much, too soon may arouse curiosity that should be satisfied,
indeed, but according to the child's capacity to learn and make his own.
It is commonly known that this runs counter to what some educational theorists
hold regarding sex instruction. Subscribing to a "scientific" concept
of education, "the method of inquiry and test, that has wrought marvels
in one field, is to be applied so as to extend and advance our knowledge in
moral and social matters." This means that "the truths in morals (are)
of the same kind as in science namely, working hypotheses that on the one
hand condense the results of continued prior experience and inquiry, and on
the other hand direct further fruitful inquiry." (11) Consequently, the
only thing necessary to promote good morals among people is to furnish them
early, with an adequate body of facts, and to encourage them to put these facts
into experimental practice with a view to arriving at some working hypothesis
which may serve as a temporary standard of moral conduct.
Thus, arguing that what young people need to control their libido is knowledge
of its functions and the evils of abuse, certain educators have made sex instruction
a commonplace in many American schools. Occasional complaints from parents indicate
to what limits this instruction can go. In a nationally syndicated article,
one mother said that "far too many of our school children are being taught
far too much about sex." She went on to explain that her sixteen year old
daughter in high school was given assigned reading in a medical textbook on
sexology, illustrated and so detailed that a few years ago a similar book could
not have been purchased from the bookseller without a doctor's certificate.
It is not clear, she confessed, how boys and girls in their teens are "benefited
by learning the most satisfactory positions for conjugal relations." Books
and magazines are supplemented by visual aids that leave nothing to the imagination,
and only rarely are criticized for imposing Freudianism and Pragmatism on the
instruction of the young.
Repetition in teaching children about sex is essential, no less than in other
forms of learning. What is heard once or twice is forgotten, or when something
is told, the child was distracted, and always present is the element of growth,
mental, physical and emotional. Added details, clearer explanations, more forceful
presentation of facts will be demanded with each successive stage of development.
Continuity is equally important. While parents should always answer truthfully
when asked about sex matters, they cannot tell everything at once. There is
too much to say, and, besides, only a certain amount of this information is
useful at any one time. As a general rule, it is advisable to meet and slightly
anticipate the need of the individual, which differs between boys and girls,
among brothers and sisters in the same family, and especially according to the
environment in which the family lives, the school attended and the company that
Matters of such serious import should not be left to chance, and parents have
a grave obligation to know their children well enough and win their confidence,
to make sex instruction easy on both sides and profitable not only physically
or emotionally but especially morally. Well before puberty, boys and girls should
be taught the mechanism of their bodies and the meaning of what changes will
take place in their sexual apparatus: seminal emission and menstruation, venereal
pleasure and attraction, and how to cope with the moral implications which this
involves. Otherwise a distorted view of sex, learned from magazines or friends,
can blight a young person's whole outlook on life and create false values that
may take years (if even then) to eradicate.
Moral and Spiritual Values in Education
The school in present-day America has taken on more and more the role of substitute
for parents, and its function in shaping the character of youth is becoming
annually more significant. One of the anomalies of this dominance of formal
education is the rift being created between what is still the religious faith
of the average home and the religious neutralism that has entered, partly through
necessity and partly by design, into a growing segment of American education.
Conscious of this tendency, educators on every academic level and in every
religious tradition have expressed concern and are trying to remedy what they
feel is an impossible situation. Private schools offer less of a problem, because
their administration is normally under church-affiliation and the whole purpose
of such institutions is to integrate religious values with the curriculum. "It
is not correct," declares a Lutheran statement of policy, "to divide
education into a religious and non-religious category, to separate the one from
the other, and to set up a dual education offered by institutions which differ
in their nature and philosophy." (12) Yet church-affiliated schools are
a minority, and even the majority of Catholic children are attending tax-supported
What are the moral implications for parents, teachers and others who can influence
public opinion in this crucial matter of religious principles in tax-supported
education? They are being spelled out by various agencies, like the National
Education Association, whose massive statement on policies began by stating
that, "a great and continuing purpose of education has been the development
of moral and spiritual values. To fulfill this purpose, society calls upon all
its institutions. Special claims are made on the home and the school because
of the central role of these two institutions in the nurture of the young."
Shortly after its organization in 1950, the National Council of Churches held
a conference on Religion and Public Education. Its main resolution was
that, "since religious truth is a part of our heritage of truth, it should
be included in the child's education wherever relevant to the subject matter
The American Council on Education has published several volumes and sponsored
a national symposium at Columbia University on the question. In the opinion
of the American Council, "the intensive cultivation of religion is, and
always has been, the function of religious institutions. To create an awareness
the school is but rounding out its educational task, which culminates in the
building of durable convictions about the meaning of life and personal commitments
based upon them." (14)
The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education finished a five
year study of how to raise the religious literacy of teachers in public schools.
"The chief purpose of this study," it was stated, "will be to
discover and develop ways and means to teach the reciprocal relation between
religion and other elements in human culture in order that the prospective teacher,
whether he teaches literature, history, the arts, science or other subjects,
be prepared to understand, to appreciate, and to convey to his students the
significance of religion in human affairs."(15) Dr. A.L. Sebaly of Western
Michigan University was national coordinator of this research program.
Most recently the National Council of Churches completed its own five year
analysis of religious values in public education to publish a second report
to the forty million Protestant and Orthodox membership of the Council. It concluded
that "the public school should recognize the function of religion in American
life, and maintain a climate friendly to religion, doing its share to assure
to every individual the right to choose his own beliefs. (16)
This sudden outburst of interest in religious values for schools would seem
strange unless seen as the spontaneous reaction of a believing people to the
growing challenge of secularism in the United States, which threatens to deprive
teachers of the right to communicate and pupils to receive a solid grounding
in those fundamental spiritual principles on which our nation is built.
It is one of the paradoxes of history that the United States, where human liberty
is specially prized and religious institutions have flourished as nowhere else
in modern times, should yet be the only great country in the West where teachers
have to defend their claim to transmit the religious heritage on which the existence
of America depends.
What should be the attitude of dedicated teachers towards this crucial problem?
As teachers they have a professional desire to give the students all the benefits
of a well-rounded education, as believers they are interested in the spiritual
welfare of those under their academic care, and as Americans they wish to promote
those values which are more important than nuclear weapons to preserve our country
from the dangers of a rampant Communism.
The areas of concern are a correct concept of religion, the meaning of "intrinsic
to learning experiences" as applied to religion in the classroom, an understanding
of the value of religion on the part of the teacher along with his appreciation
of those religious values which he is expected to cultivate, and the methodology
or technique by which teachers are to convey these values to students in the
public school classroom.
Correct Concept of Religion. The first issue that needs clarification
is the meaning of religion. Agencies like the American Association of Colleges
for Teacher Education are sincerely urging the integration of religion and public
education, but they labor under the handicap of not knowing exactly what religion
means. After years of research and consultation, they came up with such admissions
as, "we have not flattered ourselves into assuming we could define 'religion'
in a way that would be acceptable to all." Or again, "it would be
unwise for us to be stopped at dead center by our failure to agree on a definition."
Yet absolute clarity on the clarity on the meaning of the very object of concern
is indispensable. No doubt the main reason why research experts in the National
Education Association and elsewhere have been stopped at dead center on defining
terms is the radical tension that now exists between two contradictory notions
of religion in the educational world, only one of which is valid and the other
has so intruded itself as to obfuscate the genuine concept. When John Dewey
wrote that "any activity pursued in behalf of an ideal and against obstacles
and in spite of threats of personal loss because of conviction of its general
and enduring value is religious in quality," (17) he arbitrarily removed
belief in a personal God from the notion of religion and appropriated the traditional
name to include his own brand of naturalistic humanism.
Properly defined, religion is the sum-total of all the principles and laws
which determine our responsibilities to God. Many of these can be recognized
by the light of pure reason, and then the religion to which they give rise is
natural; when additional ideas or precepts are supplied by a special, miraculous
communication from the Deity, the consequent religion is revealed or supernatural.
As applied to its integration with education, the term "religion"
is generic and covers both, the natural and supernatural forms; but indispensable
in either case is the recognition of a personal God.
Coming closer to the classroom, what is the nature of those religious factors
which the teacher is supposed to find intrinsic to the subjects he is handling?
Take the field of literature. What does religion mean in Chaucer, Shakespeare
or Milton, if not the acceptance of a personal God; or in history, in the religious
institutions of the Greeks and Romans, in the origins of Christianity, the rise
of Islam, the Crusades, the Protestant Reformation, the migration to America
in search of religious freedom? Their common factor is always belief in a Supreme
Being, with intellect and will, who is responsible for man's existence and determines
his future destiny.
Religion as Intrinsic to Learning Experiences. Quite as important
as a clear notion of what we mean by religion is a definite understanding of
how precisely religion may be considered intrinsic to the learning process.
Religion may be intrinsic to the process of learning in two ways: in terms
of the subject matter of a given course, and of the student who is being taught.
In the first case the object is to do justice to an apparently secular discipline
like English or History, and teach it with all the religious data and explanation
demanded for the academic integrity of the subject. In the second case, the
aim is to do equal justice to the needs of the pupil as a human being and a
member of civil society. Both types deserve to be more fully explained.
Religion is intrinsic to the contents of any subject in so far as the latter
deals with human activity, of whatever kind, in relation to the Deity. The forms
of this relation are myriad. They can be purely informational, as in a historical
study of ancient Greece and Rome; or causal, as in tracing the religious inspiration
of the Crusades; or reflective, as in the poetry of John Milton and the essays
of John Henry Newman; or interpretative, as in the origins of the Reformation
and the Bezboznik movement of Communism; or motivational, as in teaching
civics and the social sciences.
It may be asked whether this correlation includes teaching about the doctrinal
position of various religious systems, say, Mohammedanism or the different kinds
of Protestantism. Yes, to the extent to which such information is necessary
for an intelligent grasp of the subject under consideration. Thus, for example,
not to treat of the faith of the English Separatists would deprive the student
of a proper understanding of why the Pilgrim Fathers came to America.
Religion is also intrinsic to the learning process because of the subjective
needs of the student, as a human being and a member of society. He has a personality
that requires development, specific duties to others that have to be learned
and rights that should be respected. In a word, his character must be trained
in accordance with objective values, at the risk of becoming a burden to himself
and a liability to everyone else. As expressed by the Policies Commission of
the National Education Association, "The American people have rightly expected
the schools of this country to teach moral and spiritual values. The schools
have accepted this responsibility. The men and women who teach in these schools,
as responsible members of society, share its system of values. As educators,
they are engaged in a vocation that gives central place to values as guides
to conduct." (18)
However, it is one thing to say that schools should teach moral and spiritual
values and another to identify these values as religious and based on the recognition
of a personal God. Yet in principle and practice the two are inseparable. Man
is a creature, and as such is subject to his Creator in all that he does. His
moral conduct, therefore, is to be measured by its agreement or discord with
the order established by the Creator in the universe. Consequently morality
has its source in God and cannot be divorced from Him. Unless man's conscience
is enlightened by the knowledge of principles that express the divine law, there
can be no firm and. lasting morality. So that without religion morality becomes
simply a matter of individual tastes, or public opinion, or of popular vote.
Understanding the Significance of Religion. Knowledge is the
prerequisite for action. Unless teachers understand what religion means, what
impact it had on the history and literature of nations, and how it contributes
to the shaping of character, they can hardly take it seriously or treat it competently
in the classroom. In fact, their ignorance of religious values will be a deterrent
from using them to the advantage of their pupils.
Christians believe that man, as he now exists, is not in the condition he would
have been if he had not become originally estranged from the Creator. A primordial
fall has left his mind and will substantially intact but also gravely wounded
in their capacity for right knowledge and right conduct without assistance from
God. The help he needs for the mind is revelation, the aid for the will (along
with the mind) is grace. The first he obtains through faith in the God who made
him, the second through humble prayer.
It is invalid to object that recognition of faith and the need of recourse
to God into public schools is sectarian. It is sectarian only to those who do
not believe in God. To those in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, includes the
admission of man's inability, of himself, to reach the destiny of his existence,
and the corresponding necessity of divine aid.
This fact emphasizes the importance of having teachers in the classroom who
personally appreciate what they academically understand, in order to give their
students the full benefit of a balanced integration of religious values.
An appreciation of religious values, therefore, psychologically implies a personal
dedication to those values in the teacher's private and social life. What the
teaching profession most needs, and without which all the talk about integrating
religion and education remains sterile, is a growing number of men and women
who instinctively communicate what they cherish because religious principles
are the bedrock of their own lives. In the measure that a person has learned
to live and deal easily with the invisible Teacher who abides in the depths
of his soul, will he treat of spiritual things with a delicacy that does not
offend and a prudence that will not obtrude on the autonomy of the youngest
Conveying the Significance of Religion. The final stage in this
process is the actual communication of moral and spiritual values, which in
itself would not be hard were it not for the limitations imposed by a heterogeneous
student body, the civil law, and the American concept of separation of Church
and State. Limitation, however, is not elimination. There is a definable substratum
of principles which underlies the great religious cultures in America, and within
whose limits teachers should consider themselves free to deal in the classroom.
It would not be hard to isolate these principles in abstract language, but
we can draw them verbatim from the writings of Moses Maimonides, the medieval
Jewish sage whose thirteen articles are as close as Judaism ever came to a formal
confession of faith, and are commonly accepted by the Jewish people. Four of
these articles may serve as the basic Judaeo-Christian framework for teaching
moral and spiritual values in the schools, whether public or private.
I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, praised be He, is the Creator
and Guide of all creation, and that He alone made, does make, and will make
I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, praised be He, knows every deed
of men and their thoughts, as it is written. "He fashions the hearts of
them all and observes all their deeds."
I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, praised be He, rewards those
who keep His commandments and punishes those who transgress His commandments.
I believe with perfect faith that there will be a revival of the dead at a
time when it shall please the Creator, praised be He, and exalted His name forever.
To anyone familiar with the current national efforts in the field of religion
and public education, the major problem is right here. How, concretely and realistically,
can the fundamental religious truths be correlated with the academic disciplines
in such a way as to avoid the two extremes of teaching sectarian doctrine or
indulging in meaningless platitudes? The platitudes offer no trouble and nobody
worries about them. But the danger of sectarian indoctrination is the bête
noire, and the one issue that plagues every educator who studies the question.
It is also the ostensible motive for opposition in some quarters to any program
in education that would involve a change in the status quo.
One of the great services that Christian teachers can render to the present
cause is to clarify certain concepts for others in the teaching profession whose
vision in this matter is less clear. They can show that there are religious
values, basic to Judaism and Christianity, which are not sectarian or denominational
but represent the common spiritual heritage of our nation. They can distinguish
between a legitimate separation of Church and State, and an impossible separation
of religion from civil society and its institutions, including public schools.
They can prove, from their own experience, how easily and effectively the deepest
spiritual convictions may be cultivated in students without encroaching on their
particular creed and with recognized benefits to individuals and to society.
A typical plan was worked out by a teacher in the public school system of Detroit.
She called it "Training for Moral and Ethical Values," and after more
than twenty years of unqualified success has inspired numerous other teachers
to follow her example. Her own preamble of objectives is clear.
To present a unified plan of instruction for the individual growth and social
development of our children, according to God's moral law, the Ten Commandments,
as the foundation of the American Way of Life in a Nation under God.
To train our children to understand better the Changeless pattern of God's
moral law as the true guide in the changing events and circumstances of life,
and to direct them in the daily practice of God's Way of Love rather than hate,
knowing God as the Father of the human family, who desires us to live together
in brotherly love, regardless of color, creed, or social, national origin or
To use the daily events and situations in school life as opportunities to learn
by thinking and by doing; to see desirable effects in habitual practices of
God's moral law, as we willingly direct our efforts to happy and satisfying
living, which is the best possible preparation for all to build a better world;
in other words, to encourage every child to build a better person within. (20)
Needless to say, a program of this kind will take foresight and a degree of
communicability that differs with different people, schools, and concrete situations.
Some time ago in the State of Iowa a study showed that of all
teachers in public schools, those who were least communicative or, as the report
called it, the "most self-arrestive," were Catholic. By actual count,
teachers of other persuasions were up to six times as willing to raise religious
issues in the classroom and discuss them with pupils.
Future Prospects. About a century ago, a Princeton theologian,
Dr. A.A. Hodges, argued that "if every party in the state has the right
of excluding from public schools whatever he does not believe to be true, then
he that believes most must give way to him that believes least, and then he
that believes least must give way to him that believes absolutely nothing, no
matter in how small a minority the atheists or the agnostics may be." It
is self-evident, Hodges concluded, that on this scheme, if it is consistently
and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States
system of national popular education will be the most efficient and wide instrument
for the propagation of unbelief which the world has ever seen. (21)
Much has happened since Hodges wrote just after the Civil War. His fears about
public education becoming "the most appalling enginery for the propagation
of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief" have not been verified. On the
contrary, public schools have become the bulwark of American democracy and one
of the principal instruments of unity in a melting pot of nations. They have
done much to safeguard American traditions, including religion, and have helped
to produce some of the greatest of this country's spiritual leaders. But now
they must cope with a new element that has entered the scene. Certain interests,
influential in shaping national opinion, are opposed to any semblance of religious
values in public education.
As expressed in a bulletin of the American Humanist Association, there is a
growing pressure to conformity, which those who do not believe in theism must
resist by all the means at their disposal. Among the targets of resistance is
"a steady encroachment of religion upon public education: through released
time for religious instruction, through Bible reading and the recitation of
prayers in the schools, and through the efforts to incorporate religious teachings
in the curriculum itself." (22)
Aroused by such pressures, the Protestant Churches of America have declared
themselves unequivocally in favor of integrating religion with the regular curriculum
and warn against any shibboleths about mixing church and state. "We believe
that religion has a rightful place in the public school program," officially
declares the Methodist Church, "and that it is possible for public school
teachers, without violating the traditional American principle of separation
of church and state, to teach moral principles and spiritual values. Such teaching
would afford a background for further and more specific instruction on the part
of home and church. The home and church must carry the chief responsibility
for nurturing vital faith which motivates life, but the home and church must
have the support of our public schools." (23)
Currently two forces are struggling for mastery of the American school system:
high-minded religionists in every denomination who are deeply concerned for
the spiritual welfare of the country, and straddling or confused secularists
who place selfish and doctrinaire interests before what they call "ethical
theism," which derives from the acceptance of a personal God. Parents and
teachers are faced with an option between the two philosophies.
Rights of Civil Authority
The question of obedience to civil authority and the problems to which their
relation has given rise, are as old as Christianity. In a true sense there was
no problem before the advent of Christ when, for all practical purposes, the
public authority was regarded equally competent in the field of religion as
in the secular domain. With the coming of the Church, however, an essential
change was introduced by her Founder, who transferred to her the sphere of religion
and the whole moral direction of mankind independent of the power of the State.
Our immediate purpose is to see the development of this mutual relation between
two disparate societies, one derived from nature and created by the social instincts
of the human race, the other based on the supernatural order and founded by
the Incarnate Son of God. As we examine their relationship, the issues will
be seen to fall into two categories, those which are immutable because flowing
from the natural law or determined by divine revelation, and others that are
adaptable to different times and ages and even in the same period may vary according
to different circumstances. There is more than academic value in not divorcing
these issues from the historical context in which they occurred. Otherwise the
real development in conscience and State policy can scarcely be appreciated
and, more seriously, the distinction between eternal principles and adaptable
norms would be hard to recognize.
Scripture and Tradition. Significantly the classic statement
of Christ on the relation of Christianity to the civil power was provoked by
religionists who had no sympathy with the secular authority to which they were
subject. The Pharisees sought to trap Jesus by asking Him if it was lawful to
render tribute to Caesar, where the word "tribute" embraced all kinds
of taxes payable to state officials. Pharisees and Herodians had long since
adjusted their conscience to the payment. But they hoped to force Christ to
compromise Himself no matter how He answered. If He advised non-payment, as
they expected, He becomes indictable to Rome. The pseudo-Messias, Judas the
Galilean, had perished for this very cause some twenty years before. Should
He advise payment, He would lose His Messianic hold on the people for whom Messianism
meant complete independence of foreign domination.
Instead of falling into the trap set for Him, Jesus forced His enemies to convict
themselves by asking for a coin with Caesar's image on it, and then declaring
that, since the coin had come from Caesar, justice requires that it be returned
to him. "Render to Caesar," He said, "the things that are Caesar's,
and to God the things that are God's." (24) Civil transactions like the
payment of taxes are on one plane, the rights of God on another. There is no
inevitable clash provided, as happened in the relationship of Rome to the Jewish
people, that the civil demands did not hinder the exercise of man's duties to
One aspect of Christ's reply to the Pharisees that may be overlooked, accentuates
His recognition of the rights of civil authority, as distinct from those of
the Church. The emperor to whom Christ declared tribute could be lawfully paid
was officially a god. From the first beginnings of the Empire, the deification
of Roman rulers became an established practice of the nation. Julius Caesar
was proclaimed to be a god. Divus was the term used the title given
him by senatorial decree, and his worship was put on a full ceremonial basis,
with temple, priests, and ritual. The same things were done for Augustus, Claudius,
Vespasian and Titus. As time went on, this phase of Roman religion grew spontaneously
and accounted in great measure for the hostility of Rome to Christianity. The
last of the Divi, deified in 307 A.D., was Romulus, the son of Maxentius,
whom Constantine defeated at the Milvian bridge. When Christ, therefore, granted
the right of rulers to demand obedience in temporal and secular affairs, He
made the most drastic distinction possible between legitimate civil authority
and its illegitimate pretensions. In so far as the Emperor commanded what was
due to him as a ruler of state, all the citizens, including Christians, were
bound to obey notwithstanding his abuse of power and even the blasphemous
claim to divinity.
In the apostolic Church, Peter implemented the teaching of his Master by urging
the Christians to accept the established form of government and submit to those
in authority "for the Lord's sake," that is, Christ, in order not
to bring discredit on His followers. "Be subject to every human creature"
with valid authority, "whether to the king, as supreme, or to governors
as sent through him ...For such is the will of God, that by doing good you should
put to silence the ignorance of foolish men." And he concluded, "fear
God, honor the king." (25)
As in the case of Christ, so here the injunction to be subject to the king,
really "emperor" in the Greek that Peter wrote, takes on added significance
when the king is identified as Nero, and the motive indicated is the will of
However, the most elaborate exponent of Church and State relations in early
Christianity was St. Paul. His exhortation to the Romans remains to this day
an epitome of the obedience that a Christian owes to the civil rulers. "Let
everyone be subject to the higher authorities," he enjoins, "for there
exists no authority except from God, and those who exist have been appointed
by God. Therefore, he who resists the authority resists the ordinance of God;
and they that resist bring condemnation on themselves. For rulers are a terror
not to the good work but to the evil." Yet the ultimate reason for submission
is not the physical punishment that follows on disobedience. Rather, "you
must needs be subject, not only because of the wrath, but also (and primarily)
for conscience sake." Even in matter of taxes, "this is why you pay
tribute, because state officials are the ministers of God." (26)
All subsequent theology on the duties of Christian citizens has appealed to
this dictum of St. Paul, that there exists no authority, including the civil,
except from God, and those who possess it have been appointed by God. One conclusion
that later generations have drawn from the principle is the licity of honestly
regarding as divinely appointed every de facto government, even when tyrannical
or anti-religious, as happened during the Roman persecutions, and more recently
in Elizabethan England or modern satellites of Russia.
In the first three centuries of the Christian era, the relation of Church and
State was one of incessant conflict, in which the Roman Empire reacted against
the Church as its mortal enemy, conscious on the one hand of the latter's inherent
power over the hearts and minds of men, but blind to the fact that Christianity
was not a political rival and still less a threat to civil authority.
Pliny's letter to Trajan (112 A.D.), describing how he dealt with the Christians
in Bithynia gives us an insight into motives behind the pagan persecution. "I
asked them if they are Christian," wrote Pliny. "If they admit it,
I repeat the question a second and a third time, threatening capital punishment;
if they persist, I sentence them to death. For I do not doubt that, whatever
kind of crime it may be to which they have confessed, their pertinacity and
inflexible obstinacy should certainly be punished." The crime for which
the Christians were punished was nothing more or less than "obstinacy"
in professing their religious belief against the mandates of the civil power.
"All who denied that they were or had been Christians," Pliny explained,
"I considered should be discharged, because they called upon the gods at
my dictation, and especially because they cursed Christ, a thing which, it is
said, genuine Christians cannot be induced to do." (27)
Yet all the while they were being persecuted, the Christians protested their
loyalty to the government and only pleaded for justice, not to be punished for
crimes they did not commit or, as Christ had demanded, to be shown wherein they
had done wrong. "If it is certain," Tertullian asked, "that we
are the most guilty of men, why do you treat us differently from our fellows,
that is, from other criminals ...Christians alone are not allowed to say anything
to clear themselves, to defend truth, to save a judge from injustice. That alone
is looked for, which the public hate requires the confession of the name,
not the investigation of the charge." In spite of the manifest injustice,
however, "we call upon God for the welfare of the Emperor, upon God the
eternal ...whose favor, beyond all others, the Emperor desires." If this
seems incredible to the pagan mind, let them "examine God's words, our
scriptures (and) learn from them that a superfluity of benevolence is enjoined
upon us, even so far as to pray for our enemies and to entreat blessings for
our persecutors." (28)
Evidently the early Christians distinguished between the spiritual allegiance
they owed the Church and the civic loyalty that was due to the State. Where
the latter encroached on the former, it could not be obeyed; but within the
limits of due authority the State had a right to perfect obedience and a title
to Christian prayer, that the Lord might direct the rulers in their government
and assist their temporal reign.
Modern Situation. There are two sides to the role of civil society,
notably in a democracy like the United States: civil authorities have, as their
first duty, to provide for the common temporal and cultural welfare of their
subjects and of those whom they represent; citizens have the manifold duty to
love their country, respect those in authority, elect worthy representatives
to offices in the government, and obey the laws which duly qualified legislatures
pass for the common good.
Of all the words in the English language, few have suffered more badly at the
hands of careless writers than the word "politics," which has become
almost synonymous with dishonest management to secure the success of candidates
for public office or insure profit for those in positions of civil authority.
Yet sound Christian philosophy teaches that politics is the characteristic virtue
of civil officials, whose moral function is to preserve peace, order and justice
among those under their charge.
The practical difficulty, however, is that politics is a part of the real world,
where the simple choice between what is wholly right and wholly wrong may not
always be given. Conscientious holders of public office testify that the ideal
they desire is not often realized and in some cases cannot even be advocated.
Prudence, they say, may require the toleration of a measure of evil in order
to prevent something worse, or to save the limited good. It is the good effect,
limited though it be, which they will and desire, not the evil they must tolerate.
Prudence may dictate a decision to let the cockle grow with the wheat, not to
outdrive the flock lest all fall by the wayside. They quote the famous passage
in Aquinas where he speaks of the purpose of human law, as distinct from the
Human law is framed for the multitude of human beings, the majority of whom
are not perfect in virtue. Therefore, human laws do not forbid all vices, from
which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices from which it is
possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are injurious to
others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained.
Aside from the exercise of prudence in tolerating evils to avoid greater harm
or impeding a positive good, those in public office have the corresponding duty
of making their moral convictions felt and not take refuge in political compromise
ostensibly to choose the lesser of two evils but often to protect their own
If the first obligation of citizens is to love their country and respect those
in authority, these virtues remain sterile unless people exert themselves at
some sacrifice for the promotion of the common good. Thus voting is a civic
duty that is binding at all times, but especially whenever a good candidate
has an unworthy opponent and neglect to exercise one's franchise might result
in the election of the latter. On the rare occasion when an unworthy candidate
is still more worthy than someone else, the former may be voted for in order
to avoid a greater evil, although in such cases an explanation should be given,
if possible, to avoid scandal.
Obedience to the laws is part of the virtue of justice that a citizen owes
his country and the community in which he lives. Tax legislation comes under
this heading, although a careful distinction should be made here between obedience
to the law and the duty of restitution if a person evades the tax laws. The
latter does not always apply, notably in what are called indirect taxes, such
as customs duties and revenues levied on alcoholic beverages, tobacco and the
like. Nevertheless, to default in payment of ones taxes whether indirect (as
above) or direct (as personal, real estate, property and income taxes) may
be gravely sinful, especially if a large sum of money is involved or if great
scandal is given to others.
Obedience to the Church
An obvious difference exists between the Catholic and other Christian concepts
of ecclesiastical authority. Where the Catholic believes his Church to be invested
with divine authority and demanding complete obedience, Protestants and others
do not feel themselves so bound. Their implicit idea is that no visible agency,
not even the Church, has access to the fullness of truth or its correlative
certitude. It cannot, therefore, command absolute submission to its precepts
if it does not claim to possess infallible certainty.
Any form of compulsion is a contradiction of faith. The highest truths are
the truths which are spiritually discerned, and spiritual discernment, as the
Bible says, always takes place in freedom. Christian authority is always consistent
with assurance, never with certainty. A quest for certainty in the Christian
life is an expression of bad faith. (30)
A Catholic, on the other, by the very fact of his religious profession believes
that the Church is God's vice-gerent, His visible spokesman to the world and
authorized by Him to direct its members on the road to heaven. In the degree
to which his faith is strong, he is ready to put aside his own private judgment
and prompt to obey in all things what he considers not an authoritarian institution
but an extension of Christ Himself. Three levels of obedience are conceivable.
The first and lowest, is the obedience of execution which carries a command
into external effect, but without internal submission of mind and will. This
scarcely merits the name of obedience. The second degree, or obedience of the
will, is praiseworthy and highly meritorious because it involves the sacrifice
of human freedom for the love of God. At the highest level stands obedience
of the intellect which is possible because, except in the face of overwhelming
evidence to the contrary, the will for its own motives can bend the understanding;
it is reasonable because, for the Catholic, nothing could be more intelligent
than submission of mind to infinite wisdom; it is also necessary to insure proper
subordination in a hierarchical society and protect the subject from internal
Basic Ecclesiastical Precepts. Depending on the calculation,
there are at least seven fundamental precepts of the Church that affect the
average layman, over and above the commandments of God which are binding on
all persons, whether they are even Christian or not. They are, in sequence:
to hear Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, to fast on days appointed,
to go to Confession at least once a year, to receive Holy Communion during the
Easter time, to contribute to the support of the Church, to observe the marriage
laws, and not to read forbidden books.
A Catholic is obliged under penalty of grave sin to assist at Mass on all Sundays
of the year and, in the United States, on what are called Holy Days, namely,
Christmas or the Birth of Jesus Christ (December 25), New Year's or the feast
of the Circumcision (January 1), the Ascension of Christ into heaven (fortieth
day after Easter), the Assumption of Mary into heaven (August 15), the feast
of All Saints (November 1), and the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin
(December 8). The obligation of assisting at Mass is binding from the time a
Catholic passes his seventh birthday, and continues as long as a person is physically
and morally capable of attending the Eucharistic sacrifice.
Yet, any moderately grave reason will excuse a person from attending Mass,
such as considerable hardship or bodily harm either to oneself or others. Consequently,
the sick, convalescents, pregnant women, people hindered by the duties of their
state or office, women or children who would incur the grave displeasure of
their husbands or parents, those who have charge of the sick, or when the performance
of some work of charity makes it impossible to attend Mass.
According to the law of fasting, only one full meal a day is permitted to persons
who have completed their twenty-first year and have not yet begun their sixtieth
year. Two other meals, without meat, are allowed, but together they should not
equal another full meal. The norm for these two meals is: enough to maintain
one's strength. Although eating between meals on fast days is forbidden, liquids
are allowed. When health or the ability to work would be seriously affected
by fasting, the law does not oblige.
Abstinence means not taking flesh meat, and obliges all Catholics who have
completed their seventh year until the end of their life. Partial abstinence
allows the use of meat at the principal meal. However, whether a person is fasting
or not, he must observe abstinence, when prescribed, either total or partial
according to regulations.
The easiest way to remember what days are affected by the laws of fasting or
abstinence, is to divide them into three categories: those on which fast and
complete abstinence are required, those with fasting and only partial abstinence,
and those with abstinence alone.
Fast and total abstinence are binding on the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception,
either December 23 or 24 according to a person's option, Ash Wednesday and the
Fridays of Lent, and the Ember Fridays which occur four times a year. Fast and
partial abstinence are required on Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays, and the Vigil
of Pentecost. Abstinence alone is to be kept on all Fridays that are not included
in the above listing.
The annual Confession is self-explanatory. It need not be made at Easter time,
and strictly speaking it does not oblige those who (although they have not been
to confession for a year) are not conscious of having during that time committed
a mortal sin. All Catholics who have reached the age of reason are affected
by the law of annual confession and Holy Communion. The latter is to be made
during the Easter season which, in the United States, extends from the First
Sunday of Lent until Trinity Sunday inclusive.
Contribution to the support of the Church follows as a duty in justice and
is binding according to a person's means. It immediately affects the parish,
school and other facilities that a Catholic uses in the practice of his religion;
indirectly there is also a duty in charity to help the work of the Church in
its missions, social welfare and other forms of piety again depending on circumstances
and the degree to which support can be given without grave detriment to one's
Catholics have a great deal to learn here from those Protestant denominations
which make tithing part of their policy and even obligate the members to contribute
a tenth of their earnings to the support of the Church.
Marriage lairs in the Catholic Church are of two kinds: those arising from
what the Church believes to be the divine law, like the prohibition of remarriage
after divorce, and those of ecclesiastical prescription, like forbidding marriage
festivities during Lent and Advent. From the first there is never dispensation,
but the second type allow of dispensation for sufficient reason. The whole gamut
of marital duties will be treated in separate chapters.
Church legislation about reading forbidden books derives from the general principle
that a person should not endanger his faith or morals by careless exposure to
temptation. Some kinds of reading is considered forbidden by the natural law,
i.e., as constituting a grave risk (proximate occasion of sin) for a person,
whether there were any ecclesiastical legislation or not; other kinds of reading
is forbidden by the Church directly, as dangerous to faith or morals for the
generality of people, and so Catholics are bound by this prohibition.
Few areas of Catholic thought or policy have been more roundly criticized than
the legislation on "forbidden books." Yet nothing could be more consistent
with the Church's historical concern to safeguard the Christian faith and conduct
of its members. As a matter of fact, the average Catholic is in daily contact
with ideas that are alien or hostile to his faith and tradition because the
exigencies of modern life expose him to a constant barrage from mass media of
communication newspapers, periodicals, movies and television that are created
by those who are only minimally guided by Christian (let alone Catholic) ideals.
Ultimate Motivation. When Catholics are urged to observe the
precepts of the Church, the appeal is to their whole personality: with the body
for external execution, with the will for internal submission, and with the
mind for perfect consent. The function of the mind is to find reasons to defend"
the Church's mandates against the tendency to disobedience that is partly occasioned
by the nature of the Christian religion, and partly determined by the character
of the precept and the attitude of the person affected.
Catholics are prone to overlook the fact that Christianity is founded on the
truths of revelation which demand one's belief on the word of God. This holds
quite as much for truths that are naturally knowable as for strict mysteries,
and as much for doctrines that are simply to be believed as for commandments
that are also to be obeyed.
The Christian faith is essentially obscure, i.e., accepted on divine authority
and not because intrinsically evident. Its very nature, therefore, places a
burden on the intellect that needs to be recognized and properly handled. For
example, the Church tells a Catholic to assist at Mass on Sunday under penalty
of grave sin. The human mind, no matter how intelligent, will never see on purely
rational grounds why the Sunday precept should be so grave or even why hearing
Mass is important. Apart from revelation a man has no motive for going to Mass
and he will naturally rebel against the imposition unless he has faith and acts
on the reasons that faith proposes for submitting to the obligation. For a Catholic,
the fundamental reason is the Church's divine mission, given by Christ, to establish
laws and prescribe their observance. Corollary motives are the dignity of the
Mass and the necessity of grace, with all their implications. These and similar
reasons must be accepted on faith, and when need arises, invoked to obey the
Sunday precept intelligently. The same applies to all the commandments of the
Church, and not only the universal precepts but every command, even personal,
made by valid ecclesiastical authority.
There is another aspect to the obedience of the intellect expected of a Catholic.
The difficulty with obeying ecclesiastical authority may be a persuasion that
the command is too hard for me. Marital obligations interpreted by the Church
are examples of this difficulty. To meet it effectively over a period of years
and in spite of a hostile atmosphere requires courage of a high order, which
in turn requires cultivation of the right mental attitude.
Feelings of inadequacy, poor health, the memory of past failures, the dread
of being estranged or humiliated, and the fear of all sorts of possibilities,
real or imaginary, will conspire to make a precept of obedience seem like a
piece of tyranny unless the mind uses a heavy counterpoise to maintain a balanced
judgment. The counterpoise, which comes from the depths of one's faith, is a
settled conviction that "God does not command the impossible. But when
He commands, He warns you to do what you can, and also to pray for what you
cannot do, and He helps you so that you can do it. For His commandments are
not burdensome; His yoke is sweet and His burden light." (31) This conviction
is indispensable. Unless nourished and developed, even the gravest obligations
will be disobeyed and their gravity obscured by the pressure of the emotions
on the mind.
One phase of ecclesiastical obedience more directly affects the clergy, men
and women under vows, and, in general, those who are technically not the laity.
But the principles which underlie it have application to all Catholics, including
the lay people in the world. It may happen that a command seems unreasonable
on the score of inefficiency, ineptitude, or any one of a dozen natural causes.
Assuming that due representation has been made and there is no suspicion of
sin if the order is carried out, the perfectly obedient man will look for reasons
to support the precept and instinctively avoid any mental criticism.
The ground for this attitude is once more the faith. From a natural standpoint
the order may be a poor decision and scarcely suited to achieve the purpose
intended, but supernaturally a Catholic knows that his obedience can never be
fruitless. When the apostles cast their nets into the water at the bidding of
Christ, they were obedient, as Peter said, only the word of the Master; and
the miraculous draught which followed symbolizes this higher than ordinary providence,
which disposes all things surely to their appointed end as foreseen and directed
by God and beyond the calculations of men. There is no question here of conceiving
a deus ex machina or relying on miracles, while admitting their possibility.
It is rather a firm belief that a person's submission to the divine will has
a guarantee of success that he can always hope for from the One whom he ultimately
obeys, because it involves the prevision of myriad hidden forces, which He infallibly
foresees, and their infinite combinations, which He infallibly designs.
Authority and Obedience References
- Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 175.
- Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:13.
- Sirach 3:1-9.
- Ibid., 7:27-28.
- Proverbs 6:20-23.
- Sirach 7:12-16.
- Ibid., 3:3-4.
- John Henry Newman, Grammar of Assent, 5, 1.
- Henry V. Sattler, Parents, Children and the Facts of Life, Garden
City, Doubleday, 1962, pp. 52-60.
- Frederick Elkin, The Child and Society, New York, Random House,
1960, p. 39.
- John Dewey, "Challenge to Liberal Thought," Fortune,
vol. 30, p. 188.
- A.C. Stellhorn, Lutheran Schools, St. Louis, Lutheran Education
Association, pp. 4-5.
- Moral and Spiritual Values in the Public Schools, Educational
Policies Commission, N.E.A., p. 3.
- "Religion and Public Education," Religious Education,
July-August, 1957 p. 248.
- Teacher Education and Religion Project (Statement of Principles),
American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 1958.
- Relation of Religion to Public Education, National Council
of Churches, 1960, p. 22.
- John Dewey, A Common Faith, New Haven, 1934., p. 27.
- Moral and Spiritual Values in the Public Schools, p. 3.
- Judaism (Arther Hertzberg, editor), New York, 1961, pp. 22-23.
- Mary C. Sullivan, Training for Moral and Ethical Values, Detroit,
n.d., p. 3.
- Christianity Today, February 27, 1961, p. 4.
- Free Mind: Bulletin of the American Humanist Association,
September, 1955 p. 3.
- Doctrine and Discipline of the Methodist Church, Nashville, p. 653.
- Matthew 22:21.
- I Peter 2:13-17.
- Romans 13:1-7.
- C. Plinius Secundus Minor, "Epistola ad Trajanum," Num.
- Tertullian,"Apologeticus," MPL 1, 258 sqq.
- St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I_II, 96, 2.
- Carl Michalson, "Authority," A Handbook of Christian
Theology, New York, 1962, pp. 27-28.
- St. Augustine, Homily 20.
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